Welcome to the March 2009 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes

























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

A WORD FOR TODAY, March 2009

March 2, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, March 8, 2009: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

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

I like to cook. I wouldn’t say that I’m a great chef, but I have a few things that I make that my family and friends enjoy eating. Some of my favorite dishes came from recipes I received from my mom or from others. I have a few cook books, but rarely open them. I’ve made those things that come from recipes so many times that I no longer need to reference the directions to make them.

While I do make a few things from recipes, I also like to experiment with ingredients. I will often pick up a piece of meat or some bit of produce and think about how I can make it taste better. Some ideas come from the cooking shows I watch or from meals I’ve had elsewhere. Sometimes the concoction works, sometimes it doesn’t. The biggest problem is that I don’t write down what I’ve put into the mix, and it is almost impossible to replicate it. Some of the television chefs teach viewers how to cook like this. By teaching which ingredients go well together, they give the viewers the confidence to try new things or go a new direction with their usual ingredients.

Those chefs that like to ad-lib when they cook often do not like to bake. The reason for this is that it is necessary to stick to very strict measurements for baking. You can’t forget an ingredient or add too much of another. The chemistry of baking makes it especially vital that the powders and liquids are in the right proportions. If they aren’t right, the cake will fall or it will taste terrible. The chefs who like to throw things together know that they can’t make it up as they go. They have to be too precise or the food will be a failure.

Following the rules is important, and this is true not only in baking, but in life. We make rules to keep everyone safe. I’ve seen this especially during my times working and volunteering with children. The rules are taught so that the children will know what is right and good. The rules are not always presented as “do not do” statements, but also as “do” statements. In one school they had two lists. One had the rule “Do not run in the halls,” while the other had “Do walk.” This way the children not only learn what is wrong, but they also learn what is right. As the children grow, it is not quite as important to teach them rules about running and walking because they learn the benefits of doing what is right. Though the rule is still there, the adults in a school no longer obey to avoid punishment or receive a reward; they do what is right because it is right.

Paul writes about Abraham in today’s passage. Abraham was the forefather of all who believe in God. He was a man of faith and lived in praise to God because of God’s promises. He never saw the fulfillment of those promises; when he died he had just two children which does not equal the number of stars in the sky. But the promise God made to Abraham was not just for him, it was for all people. As God blessed His chosen people through Isaac and Jacob, then the judges, kings and prophets, they saw the promise become more and more true. Along the way God taught them how to live rightly, by giving them rules to help keep them safe. But obeying those rules would never bring the fulfillment of the promise. Like their father Abraham, faith would keep them moving toward God’s promises.

Unfortunately, in the days of Paul, many people thought that God’s faithfulness were dependent on their ability to keep God’s rules. They thought that obedience avoided punishment and brought reward. Paul tells the Corinthians that the laws will never save them. Doing what is right will never bring us faith. We are called to faith just like Abraham, for it is in faith that we will do what is right. Paul doesn’t reject the rules God has established because they are helpful for keeping God’s people safe. However, justification comes through faith in Jesus, not in obedience of the Law. God calls us to live in that faith, doing what is right because it is right not because we think we will benefit from it.


March 3, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, March 8, 2009: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

Mark 8:31-38 And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake the saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But he turning about, and seeing his disciples, rebuked Peter, and saith, Get thee behind me, Satan; for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men. And he called unto him the multitude with his disciples, and said unto them, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's shall save it. For what doth it profit a man, to gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? For what should a man give in exchange for his life? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man also shall be ashamed of him, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

A story is told that at some time when a certain country was persecuting Christians, a small gathering of faithful were in a church at worship. Suddenly the door slammed open and soldiers entered the sanctuary, with weapons pointed at the congregation. The leader of the soldiers yelled out to those who were gathered, “If you deny your faith and walk out of here right now, you will be safe.” A number of people rose and went for the door, but a few people stayed seated. They were unwilling to deny their faith in Jesus Christ. When the last of the deniers left the building, the soldiers closed and locked the door and then all sat in a pew. The leader said, “I’m sorry to frighten you, but in this day we had to be certain that we worshipped with true believers. We know those of you who risked your life for your faith will not betray us.”

I remember reading about a specific incident like this, but I no longer remember the details. I don’t think it matters, because there have probably been times throughout the history of the church that men have had to take similar precautions to worship the Lord. We don’t live in a time of such intense persecution. We can go to church without fear of intrusion. We can live out our faith in daily life, displaying Christian symbols on our homes or wearing a cross around our neck. We can read the bible without censorship and we can speak comforting words of hope in God’s promises to the sad and lonely in this world. We don’t really understand what it means to face a firing squad for our faith.

And that might just be our biggest problem. There is nothing to fear, so we are complacent in our religious life. We can hear a story like this one and ask the question, “Would you have stayed or would you have gone,” but we can’t really answer that question. On a daily basis we have opportunities to tell our neighbors and co-workers about Jesus. Do we? Do we step out on that limb in our culture that would call us intolerant for trying to convert others to our faith? Do we hide our Christianity on our resumes or pretend that we aren’t people of faith with our neighbors?

We usually focus on the line “take up his cross and follow” and wonder about what Jesus meant when He said this. What is our cross? For some, the cross is the suffering they experience, like when they are sick or dealing with the harsh realities of our world. Others say their cross is having to deal with things they don’t like for the sake of others. Yet other will say that the good works they do is the cross they carry.

But Jesus goes on to say, “whoever loses their life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it.” Do we have to die to carry our cross? We are reminded in the scriptures that Christ died once for all. So, what does this mean for us today? Perhaps we should be asking ourselves is not whether or not we would face the wrong end of a gun for our faith, but whether or not we are willing to refuse to take our kids to soccer practice on a Sunday morning so we can attend worship. Will we tell our bosses we can’t do something because it goes against our faith? Will we stand up for the things that we believe matter in this world? Will we call a spade a spade even when the rest of the world says it is a shovel?

We may never have to make the choice of whether or not to stay in the pew when threatened by a gunman’s bullet, but there many opportunities to deny oneself for the sake of Christ and His gospel. Will we gain the whole world by keeping our faith private, but lose true life in doing so? Are we so ashamed of Christ that we will bury Him beneath our daily worldly activities because it is easier to do so than to stand with Him? These are the questions we should be asking ourselves, rather than wondering what cross we have to carry. For losing one’s life does not necessarily mean dying in the flesh, it means putting Jesus Christ before everything else in our life. It is there we find true life.


March 4, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, March 8, 2009: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man also shall be ashamed of him, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

In this week’s Gospel text, Jesus told Peter and the disciples that not only was death part of His mission, but that they also must be prepared to give up their own lives for the sake of the Gospel. Following Jesus meant death. It meant taking up their own crosses and following Him. It means the same for us. But do we really understand what Jesus is trying to say? After all, how many of us, at least those Christians who are reading these words, experience any real persecution that would lead to our physical deaths? We try to define our crosses by the hard things in our life. We take our suffering and say, “This is the cross I have to bear.”

Another way people interpret this text is reflective of God's call to serve those who suffer injustice. Our cross, in this way of thinking, is to feed the poor and free the prisoners. I have certainly seen people who experience sharing their resources as a burden. We have to die to our own lusts and desires if we are going to give to others. We are blessed to be a blessing, so it is our calling to share everything we have with those in need. This is how we respond to the gift of the Gospel. Is this really a cross we have to bear?

Jesus goes on to speak even harder words for us. “For what should a man give in exchange for his life? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man also shall be ashamed of him, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Is He asking for us to give a cup of water to the thirsty in exchange for the life He has given us? No. He has given us life and has promised that if we share a cup of water in His name with someone who thirsts, we will be blessed.

Our cross is not some suffering we have to face alone in this world. It is not some work we have to do. We take up Christ’s cross with Him. It is His cross we are called to share with others. This is incredibly hard, especially since we know most people do not want to hear the message that comes through the cross. People don't want to hear that they are sinners in need of a Savior and that the only way to inherit the kingdom of God is through death and the grave—Jesus’ death. The message of the cross is foolishness. We are even ashamed to speak the words to our neighbors.

It is much harder for us to speak the Gospel to others than it is to give the thirsty a cup of water or for us to suffer pain in our flesh. But this is the cross we are called to carry, to be witnesses for Jesus in this world. It is a heavy burden for us to bear, but we are reminded that we do not carry it alone. As we walk in faith, doing all that God has called us to, He will be with us, holding us up, loving us and giving us everything we need to speak those words of grace into people’s lives. We might have to suffer for it, but we won’t suffer alone and in the end we will join Him in His glory in the Day to come. But if we are ashamed, if we do not take Christ’s cross into the world, He will also be ashamed of us. Let us always remember this, because the suffering in this world is temporary, but the glory in the next is eternal.


March 5, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, March 15, 2009: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

Exodus 20:1-17 And God spake all these words, saying, I am Jehovah thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them, for I Jehovah thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation of them that hate me, and showing lovingkindness unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments. Thou shalt not take the name of Jehovah thy God in vain; for Jehovah will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath unto Jehovah thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore Jehovah blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's.

Board games come with a set of rules so that all the players will know how to play the game. It is funny, however, how we sometimes end up making our own rules. Take, for instance, Monopoly. On the board there is a space called “Free Parking.” According to the official rules of the game, the “Free Parking” space is just that, a place to park your token for a turn. If you are playing against a mogul who owns every property, a free space might be a welcome rest stop.

I don’t know many people who play the “Free Parking” space as directed in the official rules. We usually play it that a pot of money is collected in the center of the board and the player who lands on “Free Parking” gets “free money.” The money comes from taxes and fees paid from Community Chest or Chance cards. We usually put bail money in the pot. We try to build up as big a pot as possible, because when the players are rich is when it gets interesting. Though we do not follow the official rules of the game, we established a rule that makes it more fun. It is necessary, however, when playing with someone new to make sure that everyone is in agreement about the rule.

Now, what is truly fun is playing board games with young children who ‘teach’ us how to play. Children are very good at making up rules as they go along. The new rules usually benefit the child in some way. When something is about to go the wrong way, which means against them, the child quickly says, “Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you about this rule…” and they go on to tell you how you have to jump three times on one foot and then turn around in circles until they can move their piece to the place where it needs to go to make them the winner. Ok, so I’m exaggerating, but I’m sure many parents out there know exactly what I’m talking about. It is important to teach our children how to play by the rules, but it can also be fun playing it their way.

Sometimes we have to establish the rules from the beginning. With board games it is important that everyone know how to play before starting, or else in the middle there will be conflict. Like the “Free Parking” rule in Monopoly, it is essential that everyone agrees or there will be an argument. It can ruin the fun and hurt feelings.

But sometimes it is more important to establish a relationship, to build up trust in one another before establishing rules. In the case of the Hebrews, God did not sit down with them before taking them out of Egypt. He didn’t say, “If you do this, that and the other thing, then I will save you from this slavery that has you bound.” No, God saved them first, taking them out of bondage and into freedom. It was then, and only then, that He made the covenant with them. They knew He was a deliverer, that He could save His people. They knew they could trust Him. Then God taught them how to live in this new community together.

Notice that the Ten Commandments do not begin with “do not” rules. They begin with relationship building rules. It is about putting the One who saved them out of Egypt first in their life, and then those whom God has appointed as our elders. The last few commands are the “do not” rules, but they are meant to be relationship keeping rules. The things we do against other people are the things that cause the brokenness of our world. When we murder, commit adultery, steal, lie and covet our neighbor’s things we build walls between one another. These rules are not given to make our life harder. They are given to keep us right with our neighbors and therefore right with God. In the end, if we keep the first commandment, keeping God first, we will by His nature not disobey the others because we will want to please the One who is our Savior and Deliverer.


March 6, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, March 15, 2009: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

Psalm 19 The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, And night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language; Their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, And rejoiceth as a strong man to run his course. His going forth is from the end of the heavens, And his circuit unto the ends of it; And there is nothing hid from the heat thereof. The law of Jehovah is perfect, restoring the soul: The testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of Jehovah are right, rejoicing the heart: The commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of Jehovah is clean, enduring for ever: The ordinances of Jehovah are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the droppings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: In keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Clear thou me from hidden faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me: Then shall I be upright, And I shall be clear from great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in thy sight, O Jehovah, my rock, and my redeemer.

The final verse of this passage is often used by pastors to begin their sermons. It is a prayer that the words they speak will be heard and that those listening will be blessed by the message. Preaching is a very difficult thing to do: to plan the right message for the people to whom it is being spoken. It always amazes me how many ideas can come out of just a few scriptures. If you attended twenty churches on a Sunday using the same lectionary, you would hear twenty different sermons, messages addressed to twenty unique communities. Even among the listeners at one church, you will find they’ve heard something different than you. Pastors are sometimes truly surprised to hear as people are walking out the door the messages they’ve received from the sermon preached.

I’ve been asked to prepare a sermon to use during Lent. I’ll be preaching it at several congregations. This is even harder than preparing a sermon for one service because it is being given to three different groups of people. They are very different communities, with unique problems and gifts. How do I write one message that will reach out to each individual group? But that’s the wonderful thing about preaching God’s grace; it isn’t the words that I speak that will touch them, but God’s Spirit that will do the work. We have to trust in this miraculous and mysterious truth when we preach. That’s why we ask God to bless our words and the hearts of those listening, so that He will be glorified in both our speaking and their hearing.

There is a universal language when it comes to faith. No, I don’t mean that we can all hear words in other languages and understand everything we hear. While the gift of tongues is very real, that’s not what I mean by a universal language. Music comes close, because it is in music that we share in the emotion of the words spoken. An Italian opera can move a person to laughter and to tears even if they do not know a word of Italian. A Christian can attend liturgical worship in a foreign country and understand what is happening even if the words spoken are not in their own language.

But the Psalm speaks of a more basic universal language: that of creation. The psalmist writes, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork.” He also says, “There is no speech or language where their voice is heard.” God can be seen in the beauty of a rose garden anywhere around the world. He can be experienced on the top of any mountain. His handwork is seen in the sunset as it follows the path of the earth’s rotation. Every star screams “glory” and every wave mutters “power.” All that God created points back to Him.

However, we see in this scripture that God recognizes how people use language and understand words differently. His Word is described six ways in this passage: the law, the statutes, the precepts, the commands, the fear, and the ordinances. We hear those words and we identify with one or another, knowing that God’s Word is meant for us, too. Certain words may bring us a sense of uneasiness based on our experiences and culture, but other words bring comfort and calm. God has defined His Word in these six ways so that each of us might hear how His Word is perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure and righteous no matter what language we speak or what words we use. God’s message gets into our hearts because God helps them get there. By His Spirit, we hear His grace.


March 9, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, March 15, 2009: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the discernment of the discerning will I bring to nought. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe. Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumblingblock, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Stephen King’s “The Stand” is a book about the end of the ages, the final battle between good and evil. Though it has been a long time since I’ve read the book, the basic plot is that a disease wiped out the majority of people in America. Those who were apparently immune to the disease divided into two camps: the good and the bad. The bad people end up in “Sin City,” Las Vegas Nevada, where they can meet all their every desire. The surrounded an incredibly charismatic character named Randall Flagg who has supernatural powers. He sounds good, looks good and does what his people want to see done. They, in exchange, are willing to do anything he wants done.

The rest of the people gathered around Mother Abigail. She is found in Nebraska, but leads the people of ‘The Free Zone’ to Boulder, Colorado where they begin to reestablish a democratic society. Mother Abigail is a Christ-like character, representative of all that is good in the world. She is humble and encouraging of others. Though she is a leader, she believes in the concept of ‘The Free Zone,’ so no one is required to work. Compared to the work ethics of those living in Las Vegas, who are serving Flagg with all their heart and energy, ‘The Free Zone’ appears to be filled with lazy, unmotivated people. Mother Abigail, as a country bumpkin, doesn’t seem to have the wisdom to lead an army into the war that will define the future of a nation.

This is the ultimate conflict that asks the ultimate questions. What is wisdom? What is power? What type of leader should we follow? Do we go toward the charismatic leader who seems to be wise and powerful. Do we follow the one who has seemingly miraculous powers, doing whatever he asks because he is able to provide for our every need and desire? Or do we follow the leader that is humble enough to recognize his or her own failures, to admit imperfections and who leads by encouragement rather than force? It might seem like the society in Las Vegas is the better one because things are getting done and people’s needs are being met.

The people in Paul’s day had their own idea of what they expected from a leader and a community of believers. Paul tells us that the Jews are looking for miraculous signs and the Greeks are looking for wisdom. We ask ourselves again, what are miraculous signs and what is wisdom? The cross does not fit into our worldly understanding of miracles and wisdom. For the Jews, the cross means the person hanging from ‘the tree’ is cursed. It is a sign from God that the person is not blessed or right. For the Greeks, the cross is not a wise way to create a group of followers. It is, indeed, foolishness to the world.

But, we learn that Jesus turned the world upside down. What we see as foolishness is actually the wisdom of God, for it is in the life of that one perfect man that we find true peace and forgiveness. It is in His death that we find life. In God’s kingdom, the weak are the ones who have power because they are given power and wisdom based on God’s grace, not on their own abilities or work. In God’s kingdom, the wise are those who look to the cross for everything, not to the things of this world.


March 10, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, March 15, 2009: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

John 2:13-22 And the passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And he found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: and he made a scourge of cords, and cast all out of the temple, both the sheep and the oxen; and he poured out the changers' money, and overthrew their tables; and to them that sold the doves he said, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house a house of merchandise. His disciples remembered that it was written, Zeal for thy house shall eat me up. The Jews therefore answered and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. The Jews therefore said, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou raise it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he spake this; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.

Benjamin Franklin is one of the most famous of those men who worked diligently to bring about what is known as the United States of America. He was initially interested in keeping a close relationship between England and the American colonies, supporting the king and his policies. His arguments were against those leaders of the American colonies who wanted greater control, in particular William Penn and Parliament. He did not think it right for an Englishman of one colony to make laws concerning the Englishmen of another colony. This is why our Constitution is written to give states rights over the federal government. Ben Franklin became one of the most pro-American leaders when the king finally sided with Parliament against the colonies rights to self-rule.

Benjamin Franklin was a prolific writer, but he often used pen names for his letters and essays. The most famous, of course, is Poor Richard’s Almanac, a book of witticisms written under the name Richard Saunders. Some of those witty sayings are still in use today, although some of them have been misquoted for so long we might not even recognize the original. Another famous pen name of Ben Franklin is Silence Dogood. Silence Dogood was supposedly a widow who wrote epistles to the local paper with advice and gossip from around town. Written when he was just 16 years old, Ben Franklin made a real impact on his community with those letters.

It is interesting to note that although Benjamin Franklin has a bit of a reputation as a ladies man, he was a staunch advocate of women’s justice. Many of his pen names were women’s names, including Polly Baker who wrote about how women were treated by the law. In particular, Polly Baker wrote of a woman who was punished for having illegitimate children while the fathers of those children were let off with no penalty for their promiscuity and irresponsibility.

Ben Franklin traveled extensively and was elected by several colonies to represent them before the king. Apparently on a trip to England he saw how the English press was portraying the conflict with the American colonists. He wrote to the papers under the name Benevolus to answer some of the questions and accusations made by the British press. In this case, as well as others, Ben Franklin may have used a pseudonym to protect the mission of the Revolution. Many of his writings were controversial, some even slanderous, and he could have easily been kicked out of his position unable to do the work he felt was vital to the organization of this new world.

Have you ever felt like you face an injustice and you don’t know what to do about it? Do you want to stand up for the rights of someone else, but are afraid to take a stand because you know the consequences could be dire? We are human and face human concerns about the way the world around us will react to our position and actions. We may be like Benjamin Franklin, willing to write an anonymous letter to the editor to put light on the hypocrisy and injustice around us.

In our gospel lesson for this week, Jesus does not hide behind a pseudonym. He enters into the Temple and openly defies the expectation of the community. The marketplace at the Temple was an important part of the worship experience. Pilgrims could not bring perfect animals with them on their journey. A sheep or a goat or even a dove would be too difficult to carry for long distances. The sacrifices were required, so that the pilgrims could be restored to a right relationship with God before they entered into the sanctuary. Also, the Temple would take only the right coins, so the money changers were important for those pilgrims coming from other lands. To give to God, they had to change their own money for that which was acceptable. What was Jesus standing up for when He chased out the animals and tipped over the tables of the money changers?

…to be continued.


March 11, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, March 15, 2009: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.

At the end of yesterday’s devotion, we asked the question, “What was Jesus standing up for when He chased out the animals and tipped over the tables of the money changers?” These merchants and moneychangers were there at the request of the priests, to make things easier for the pilgrims attending to do their duty and obey the law. The moneychangers provided an important service, exchanging the money that had graven images to a type of coin that did not, which was the only type of coin that could be received in the offering. The animals were an important part of the worship. Providing the pilgrims with animals that were suitable made their travel easier and ensured perfect animals for the sacrifice. If the marketplace had been outside the gates of the Temple, Jesus may not have chased off the merchants and money changers. This isn’t necessarily a comment about selling things in a sacred place.

The sales were going on in the outer court, a place where the pilgrims from other faiths were welcome to visit. It was a place of prayer for the gentiles, a sanctuary for those who could not enter into God’s presence. In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus quotes Isaiah who wrote, “…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” By filling the outer court with merchants and money changers, the gentiles had no place to experience the presence of God. In that case, Jesus was standing up for the nations of the world, whom God loved, too.

John tells us that the disciples heard Jesus and remembered a quote from Psalm 69, “Zeal for thy house shall eat me up.” They saw Jesus’ actions in the Temple as a statement about how He wanted to clean up the religion of the day. The priests had lost touch with the God for whom they claimed to work. They were more concerned about filling the Temple coffers than meeting the spiritual needs of the travelers. They were more concerned about making every little detail about the service perfect that they did not see that their world, as God saw it, was not what God intended for His people.

What is most interesting about John’s version of this story, however, is that John places this incident much earlier in Jesus’ ministry. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) have this event happening on the Monday following the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. They point out that this incident was a last straw for the leaders. Jesus had to be stopped because He was claiming authority over even the Temple business. While John also makes the point that the leaders demanded that He prove His authority, there is something deeper to John’s purpose in telling us this story.

Jesus tells those who demand a sign that they’ll get one. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They thought this was ridiculous, and the statement would come back to haunt Him later during His trial. They thought He meant the Temple made of stones, the Temple that had taken forty-six years to build. He couldn’t possible rebuild such a miraculous building in just three days. However, we know that Jesus was not referring to the building, but to His own body. When they destroyed Him, they would see the sign because He would rise up again in three days.

So, why does John put this story so close to the beginning? It has been organized in this manner because John’s purpose in writing is to establish Jesus as that Temple. Throughout the book of John, Jesus is identified with every aspect of the Temple worship. Each of the seven “I Am” statements that Jesus makes throughout the book takes us deeper into the Temple and deeper into the heart of God. He is the Bread which was represented in the Temple by the Bread of the presence. He is the Light which is represented by the candlesticks. He is the Gate, which is represented by the altar of incense. He is the Shepherd which is represented by the royal priesthood. He is the Resurrection and the Life, which is represented by the atonement cover on the Ark of the Covenant. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, which is represented by the contents of the Ark: the tablets of Law, Aaron’s staff that budded and a gold jar filled with manna. Then, when Jesus says, “I am the True Vine” He is telling us that any connection we have to God comes through Him. We are merely branches. He is the One through whom we can see and know God. The Temple itself was just a building. He was the place where we would meet and worship the Creator and Master of our lives.

So, John begins with this incident so that we might see step by step into the Holy of Holies that Jesus is the One He says He is. He is the I AM. He is our God. He has the authority to stand up not only for His chosen people, but for all people so that they might worship Him, too. His zeal is not to clean up a building, but to offer Himself to the world as the way to meet God, to know Him and to love Him.


March 12, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, March 22, 2009: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

Numbers 21:4-9 And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way to the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, and there is no water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And Jehovah sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, because we have spoken against Jehovah, and against thee; pray unto Jehovah, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And Jehovah said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a standard: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and set it upon the standard: and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked unto the serpent of brass, he lived.

Victoria is home on spring break and we’ve been doing the kinds of things that need to be done during spring break. We went shopping to buy some spring clothes and took care of some business that is hard to accomplish when she’s away. We are planning to see a movie and to have lunch with Bruce. She’s got some homework to accomplish and she is organizing her bedroom. She has spent time relaxing in front of the television, something she doesn’t get to do very much when she is at school. She is also eating some of her favorite foods.

We were home for lunch the other day, but had a terrible time deciding what to eat. We have plenty of food in our house; it would take us weeks to eat it all. But the other day neither one of us could find anything to eat. Nothing looked good. Nothing was worth the work and time it would take to cook it. Everything looked bland and unappetizing. We each managed to settle for something, but we were both thinking about things that would have tasted better.

The Hebrews had plenty to eat, but they were tired of eating the same old manna day after day after day. I can see them as well as I can see myself standing in the pantry saying, “There’s nothing to eat here!” They complained about wandering in the wilderness. They complained against Moses and God. They wanted to return to the slavery of Egypt. Did they really expect that the food would be better in Egypt? After all, they were slaves and would never have received the best of fare. However, when we are not satisfied with our situation we always expect that things will be greener on the other side of the fence. They thought that the food for slaves had to be better than the manna of freemen.

God was disappointed by their lack of faith and trust. The Hebrews wanted control. They, perhaps rightfully, felt helpless. Moses had led them into the wilderness away from their homes and everything they knew. Perhaps their life was not comfortable. They were oppressed and worked to death as slaves to the Pharaoh, and they hated their life. When Moses led them out of Egypt they were excited to be alive and free. But the Promised Land was not right around the corner. Their wandering in the wilderness became such a burden that they began to look back on their sojourn in Egypt with fond memories. It had to be better in slavery than starving and thirsting lost in the desert. Even though God was providing them with all that they needed – safety, food and water – they hungered and thirsted for Egypt.

The snakes got their attention. The people went to Moses and asked him to pray for them. Moses did pray and the LORD heard their pleas. Did He remove the snakes? That certainly would have been the most logical and loving solution to the problem. But in His mercy, God did not remove the poisonous snakes. Instead, He commanded Moses to create a bronze snake on a pole. When the people were bit, they could look at the snake and be healed. Ironic, isn't it? Looking to the very thing that brought death brought them healing and life. God gave them the sign so that they could have a visible reminder of His salvation and deliverance. As Christians we have a similar sign to remind us that we need not complain when there is nothing good to eat in the pantry because God provides all we need.


March 13, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, March 22, 2009: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 O give thanks unto Jehovah; For he is good; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever. Let the redeemed of Jehovah say so, Whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the adversary, And gathered out of the lands, From the east and from the west, From the north and from the south… Fools because of their transgression, And because of their iniquities, are afflicted. Their soul abhorreth all manner of food; And they draw near unto the gates of death. Then they cry unto Jehovah in their trouble, And he saveth them out of their distresses. He sendeth his word, and healeth them, And delivereth them from their destructions. Oh that men would praise Jehovah for his lovingkindness, And for his wonderful works to the children of men! And let them offer the sacrifices of thanksgiving, And declare his works with singing.

A few weeks ago we noticed that something was not right with Felix. He was making a strange noise when he was purring. He was losing weight. He was not playing or eating like normal. It was time for his normal yearly exam, so we took him to the vet and gave them a list of these symptoms. The vet did a number of tests and discovered a few issues, but nothing conclusive. He gave Felix some medicine and sent him home. The medicine helped very briefly and we had a few days of a nearly normal kitty. Unfortunately, the effects of the medicine wore off and Felix’s health deteriorated very quickly. He had trouble walking, stopped eating, barely had anything to drink and he withdrew from the family by hiding in dark corners alone. The day came much too soon that we had to say good-bye to our beloved friend.

The psalm for today is a call to praise God, given to those who know God’s redemption. The psalm names several groups of people, including those who are wandering in the wilderness, freed prisoners and seafarers who have been saved from a shipwreck. In the section we read today, the psalmist calls out to those who have been healed from their sickness. They passage tells us that they abhor all manner of food and they draw near the gates of death. I’m sure we’ve all felt that way at some point. When we are suffering from the flue, we can’t possibly eat anything and we feel like we will never survive. At those times we do cry out for help and we eventually get better. Do we think God when we do? Do we really see our healing from the flu as an act of God?

Most often, I think, we see getting well from something like the flu as a natural course in the disease. While we felt like we were going to die from it, we knew we wouldn’t. We knew that we would eventually feel better and would be able to return to normal life as we know it. We don’t really give God the credit for making us better because there was nothing miraculous about getting over a cold or flu. So, we forget to thank and praise God for His healing, even though we did cry out for His help.

And what happens when our cry is not answered as we might hope? Sometimes faithful people get sick and never get well. Sometimes we ask for healing but we only see further deterioration of the one we love. Now, I am not saying the loss of a pet is the same as the loss of a human being, but how many of us have watched someone we love go through a similar process as our Felix? I’ve lost both my parents to disease, and prayed expectantly that they would both be healed. Though medical science is gaining ground on remedies and cures for disease, people still die. Does God not hear their cry, too?

God does hear their cry, but His answer is not always the answer we are looking to receive. Sometimes the best healing is the worst thing we can imagine: death. Sometimes God gives the redemption that will be eternal instead of a temporary return to whatever is normal in our world.

I don’t know what’s happened to our Felix. It might be terrible theology, but it is comforting to think that I will see him again, someday. It might not be biblically sound, but I hope there is a kitty heaven and that Felix’s last breath led him to a world of green grass and butterflies, where he can lay in the sun all day and chase butterflies for fun. I do know that God loves all His creation and that He is able to take care of everyone and everything He ever gave life. I also know that those in faith who face death have not been forgotten by their God, but have been given the greatest healing possible: eternal life. And so, when we experience the healing hand of God, whether it is when we get over the flu or when someone we love breathes their last, we are called to praise God for His enduring love that lasts forever. He redeems His people, in so many ways, and for this we give thanks.


March 16, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, March 22, 2009: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

Ephesians 2:1-10 And you did he make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience; among whom we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest:-- but God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus: for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.

Marriage is the joining of two people, but it is much more than that: it is the joining of two families. Those families are often very different. Especially in today’s world when young couples meet when they are individuals living far from home, like at college of that first big job, the families often have very distinct cultures. City girls marry country boys. Boys from New York marry southern bells. California babes marry Texas oil sons. In each case, their worlds are very different, and though they get along as a couple, it is harder to bring together their families.

Sometimes it doesn’t happen; those families only merge in name, meeting together only at that one big wedding event and then never gathering together again. The couple often has to make tough decisions about where to go for holidays and who to invite for special events. On those rare occasions when the families do gather together, the atmosphere is often strained as they try to deal with their differences, rather than celebrate their common love for the couple.

Christianity is the bringing together of two very distinct ‘families.’ The Jews had a number of expectations of their people, rules to live by and things to do. Those rules limited their gathering with people like themselves. They were not allowed to eat with Gentiles or purchase certain things. Their rules kept them separated from others, not because of their nationality but because of their actions. The Gentiles did things that made them ‘unclean’ according to those Jewish laws. They ate food that was unclean. They worked on the Sabbath. They followed other deities and practiced unacceptable religious traditions.

So, when Christ came and died for all men, those early Christians had to deal with the marriage of two very distinct cultures. They had to find a way to live together, to work together, to worship God together. It was hard for them, and it is still hard for us. Despite two thousand years of trying to work out these issues, we still have many Christians who find it difficult to get along. ‘We’ look at ‘them’ and do not understand their culture or religious practices. Some argue against creeds, others think creeds are the way we define our belief. Some like liturgical settings of worship, others feel crowded by the routine. Some use the word “trespasses” in the Lord’s Prayer, others us “debts.” These may seem minor to those on the outside, but they can be major stumbling blocks for those of us trying to deal with this incredible marriage between cultures.

So, in this letter to the Ephesians, who were also dealing with these issues, Paul writes about that which we have in common. We were all sinners in need of a Savior and we all have faith in that same Savior, Jesus Christ. God loves us all. It isn’t by our traditions and practices that we are saved. It isn’t the way we say the Lord’s Prayer or the form of our worship that brings us salvation. We are saved by grace and are made alive together in Christ Jesus. We may have to be like those families that don’t get together but love one another because we have that common love of Christ. We may, sometimes, be able to find the courage and humility to gather together for His sake, despite our differences. Whatever happens in the family of Christ, we are who we are because of what God has done, and as we remember this we will look at our ‘in-laws’ with a whole new perspective, through ‘Jesus-colored glasses,’ so to speak. And we can work together to do God’s will in this world.


March 17, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, March 22, 2009: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

John 3:14-21 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him. He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his works should be reproved. But he that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, that they have been wrought in God.

We like to watch a show called Ghost Hunters. This show takes a scientific look at the study of paranormal activity. They go to places that have claims of ghosts and other abnormal events and use their specialized equipment to see if they can ‘catch’ anything. They use digital audio and video, night vision cameras, electro-magnetic field detectors and whatever else they can use to find the ghosts. Unlike those paranormal investigators that go in to prove a haunting, they go into a place with the intent of disproving the claims.

On a recent episode, the team went into a home where they claimed nausea, sleeplessness, depression and sightings of odd shaped shadows. When the team went through the home, they discovered that the man worked with many dangerous chemicals and that the heating system was located in the very room where he worked. All the fumes from those chemicals are regularly taken through their heating system and deposited on the couple, especially in the bedroom where they sleep. The team also found dangerously high electro-magnetic fields and mold. They found nothing on their video or audio tapes to confirm paranormal activity. So, as they revealed their findings to the couple, they said that it was necessary for them to take care of these other issues. The fumes, ectro-magnetic fields and the mold could be causing all their problems. The advantage of having the crew investigate is that now that couple can take control of the situation. Light has been shed on their problems and they can do something about it. If, after getting rid of the problems they are still experiencing paranormal activity, then the crew can visit again and do a new study.

What always fascinates me about this show is that the people who report the paranormal activity often experience it during the daytime, but the crew always goes into a place at night. After they set up their equipment, they turn out all the lights and bang around in darkness while they are investigating. I’ve wondered why they don’t just walk around as if they work there, doing normal things. They have explained that paranormal activity tends to heighten at night. Also, most of their equipment is designed to work in the dark, to capture fields outside the normal range of human vision and sound.

As we watch these programs, however, we often forget that the people are walking in darkness. On one episode, several people were inside an ancient chapel building late at night far from any light pollution. For them, the room was pitch black, so much so that they could not even see one another. When two of the investigators were sitting side by side on a pew, one asked the other where she was. She thought the other investigator had just walked behind her. I wondered how she could make that mistake, after all, on film we can see them perfectly. How could she not know the other investigator was right next to her? Then I remembered, it is so dark they can’t see their hands, but with those special cameras, we are given the light to see what is going on.

Our passage for today is one of the most beloved of all the scriptures; John 3:16 is probably one of the most quoted (and perhaps even misquoted) verses of the scriptures. Yet, there is so much more to this passage than the fact that God loves the world so much to give His only Son, so that all who believe in the Son will live forever. This is a message about light. Jesus Christ is the light, and without Him we live in darkness. He is like those night vision cameras that help us to see when there is no natural light around us. We might prefer to live in the world as we know it, without that Light of Christ, because there is so much in that world we enjoy. Yet, peace, hope and life are found in the world Jesus has created by redeeming His people by His blood. Living in God’s love, living in love of others and serving them, might not seem like the happiest way of life, that’s why so many people reject it. Those of us who believe have seen that light and will never perish.


March 18, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, March 22, 2009: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

Oh that men would praise Jehovah for his lovingkindness, And for his wonderful works to the children of men!

I have a cousin who got into trouble when he was a youth. He was caught up with the wrong crowd, doing the wrong things, acting out against everything and everyone. One day he was under the influence of something hanging out with his friends when they decided to burn down an old abandoned house on their street. They didn’t consider the consequences of their actions, they didn’t consider what could happen if they did this. They decided the house was worthless because it was empty and falling apart. It was an eyesore and a health hazard. It didn’t matter. Unfortunately, there was a homeless man sleeping in the house and he died in the fire. No matter how they justified the fire, they could not justify murder.

My cousin was caught and tried for arson and murder. He spent many years in prison paying for his crime. He could have responded to this defeat by living in darkness, turning to revenge and hatred and more crime. That’s what happens to many people who end up in prison. They decide that they are worthless and capable only to do what is wrong. They learn how to fend for themselves, growing more ego-centric as they sit alone in their cells pondering their lives. A few, perhaps very few, realize that they have done wrong and they look beyond themselves for hope and redemption. They seek healing and peace.

My cousin wrote to me on several occasions how thankful he was to have been caught. He believed that the life he was living was leading him toward death. Prison helped him see the reality: that he was a sinner in need of salvation. Now, my cousin grew up in a Christian household. His mother was very active with her church and she encouraged her children to follow her footsteps in the faith. They attended worship together and went to Sunday school. But everything he learned about God in those younger years was lost to his self-centered occupation of trouble as he grew older. He forgot the Savior that had already saved him. In prison he was set free from his selfishness and pettiness so that he could live truly free in the world. He saw that his trouble was not only because his actions were sinful, but that his attitude was a reflection of his sinful nature.

It would have been very easy for him to stay in the dark. Many prisoners do, and when they are released they return to the world to act out against the society that had imprisoned them. The crime builds, from minor infractions to major ones, from assault to murder, from theft to armed robbery. They take the lessons learned in prison and use them not to do good things, but to do bad things better. On the other hand, my cousin caught a glimpse of that light he had known as a child and turned back to it. To him, prison was God’s way of calling him back to Himself.

God could have saved every one of the Israelites who were bit by the snakes, taking away the poison and making them well. He didn’t need to give them a snake on a pole to look at when they were ill. He could have even removed the snakes from the situation, driving them further into the wilderness and away from His people. However, the people had to learn how to look to God in their times of trouble, not to count on Him to always get them out of it. They needed a sign of God’s presence to help them look toward Him when they were losing hope. They needed a glimmer of light in the darkness to remind them that they were never alone.

We also need a reminder sometimes when we are caught in the midst of trouble. We forget that our worldly problems are temporary and we sink into despair. Like those prisoners who return to crime when they are released, we often get more self-centered when we are faced with difficulties. We don’t understand why God won’t just take it away and set us free. God can do it; He could make life nothing but roses and cake for us, but what kind of life would that be? God has given us the freedom to live as we wish in this world, but our desires often get us in trouble. So, He also gives us a reminder of His presence and love in our lives. He lifted Jesus on a pole, just as Moses lifted the snake on a pole. We need only look toward Him to find healing and peace. He calls us to this life of thanksgiving, looking toward the One who is the Light of the world.


March 19, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, March 29, 2009: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm:9-16; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

Jeremiah 31:31-34 Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them, saith Jehovah. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith Jehovah: I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people: and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know Jehovah; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith Jehovah: for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more.

March Madness is upon us and for the next few weeks the talk around the water cooler is going to be about basketball. With sixty-four teams to start, the crowd will quickly dwindle away to the final four teams that will play for the ultimate championship. People are making their choices, filling out their brackets with the teams they think will take it all. It is great fun for those who enjoy watching basketball. Some people just like the thrill of the game and they don’t really care which teams are playing. Some people will see every game that is offered on television. Some people have even bought packages from their cable or satellite companies that will make every game available to them.

There will be late nights ahead for those who want to see every minute of the action, and tired eyes when the crawl into work the next day. There’s something about March Madness that draws people in and keeps them watching for these next few weeks. I don’t get it, but I’m not really a fan. I suppose a lot of people get into it because they have teams they want to win. They get caught up in the excitement, even when their team is no longer in the running. I guess as an outsider I never saw the point. My own alma mater is doing well in their division, but they would never end up in the top sixty-four. I’m not sure I would care one way or another if they did have a chance. It isn’t in my heart, so I’ll be glad to find something else to watch while it is going on.

God was available to His people from the beginning of time. We hear in the scriptures that He can be seen in the creation, in blooming flowers and magnificent sunsets. His strength can be seen in the high mountains and His power in the rolling ocean. Yet, God has had a special relationship with people since the days of Adam, Noah and Abraham. This is especially true of Abraham and his offspring. Throughout the Old Testament we can see God interacting with His people, giving them promises and guiding their footsteps. He gave them the Law, anointed their leaders and led them to a Promised Land. In those stories we can see that certain people had a special relationship with God, like Moses and David and the prophets. They had God’s Spirit to guide them, to give them His words and to teach them how to live. Those special people were then given the task to share it with God’s chosen people.

The people didn’t mind having a ‘go-between’. They were afraid of hearing God’s voice for themselves or seeing God’s glory. They thought they would die if they did. So, God gave them leaders to teach and guide them along the way. Yet, having someone to teach and guide did not make it easy for them to stay in a right relationship with God. They fell hard and they fell often, doing their own thing and going their own way. It was especially difficult with the leaders and teachers did not even follow the path God had ordained for their nation and their lives.

So, God promised that one day it would work in a whole new way. One day everyone would have that Spirit of God in their hearts and in their lives. The Word would not be given to them by certain people who were called to be leaders and teachers; they would have it for themselves. Instead of pushing them from the outside, God’s Word would drive them from the inside. They could study and know God for themselves, hear Him and follow Him without the need for someone to do it for them.

We must be careful, however, to note that this does not mean that there will be no teachers or leaders. We are faithful in a community with others who can help us to learn and grow and mature in our faith. We need one another, to keep each other accountable to the true Word of God, to keep from interpreting God’s Word to meet our own desires. In giving us the Spirit, God did not reject teachers and leaders. But we can know God ourselves, hear His voice and respond to our own personal call to faithful living. Through Christ we are all made insiders, and by the power of the Spirit we are drawn into those relationships so that we might live and learn and grow together in forgiveness and peace.


March 20, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, March 29, 2009: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm:9-16; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

Psalm 51:1-12 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: According to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions; And my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, And done that which is evil in thy sight; That thou mayest be justified when thou speakest, And be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; And in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts; And in the hidden part thou wilt make me to know wisdom. Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, That the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, And blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; And renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; And take not thy holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; And uphold me with a willing spirit.

Today’s Word is an edited repeat from November 2000.

The year was 1856. Steamboats could glide through muddy, mucky rivers with ease and were therefore a popular and convenient form of transportation. The Steamboat Arabia began life in Brownsville, Pennsylvania and was used on several rivers before making its way to the Missouri. It was 171 feet long and could carry 222 tons of cargo and passengers. The paddle wheel was 28 feet and was located on the side of the vessel. The boat was filled with valuable cargo, such as barrels of whiskey destined for sale in the frontiers of America.

One day, as the crew was serving dinner to the passengers on board, the boat struck a snag; a thick trunk was deeply rooted in the river bottom and hidden by the waters of the muddy river. The sharp end ripped a gapping hole into the hull of the ship, causing water to pour on board. The passengers were able to wait on the upper level of the boat while the crew ferried them and few of their possessions to safety. The only death that day was a forgotten donkey that was tied and could not escape. They were unable to recover the Arabia or any of its cargo.

The course of any river changes over time especially if there is nothing to stand in its way. During those early years of American expansion, the Missouri ran over empty, undeveloped plains. Floods changed the shape of the river and left heavy layers of silt. Very little time passed before the Arabia was completely buried and the land became very fertile farmland. The Steamboat Arabia was seemingly forgotten until the 1980’s a man sought permission of the landowners to excavate the property and resurrect the boat. After careful study he found the Arabia and uncovered her from the mud.

As they excavated the site, they found the cargo was perfectly preserved. The silt had buried the boat so quickly that there was no time for decay in the moving waters of the river. Everything was carefully cleaned and preserved, then placed in a museum in Kansas City, Missouri for display. The contents give us a peak into life in the mid-1800’s and into frontier life in America.

As I heard the story of this steamboat, I couldn’t help but compare the history of man to the history of that fine vessel. We were created and were going along just fine until we hit a snag: the fall. At that point, the muck and mire of sin covered everything aboard and buried us. One day, Jesus came along and uncovered the vessel, carefully cleansing each item and placing it on display so that the world can see what we were meant to be before the fall. As we live our lives in Christ, we shine forth the truth of who we are: God’s children created for His good pleasure. Thanks be to God that He cared enough to dig us out of the mud and cleanse us of our sin.


March 23, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, March 29, 2009: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm:9-16; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

Hebrews 5:5-10 So Christ also glorified not himself to be made a high priest, but he that spake unto him, Thou art my Son, This day have I begotten thee: as he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever After the order of Melchizedek. Who in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and having been heard for his godly fear, though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation; named of God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

A few years ago, I spent a great deal of time online in chat rooms. I loved talking with others about scripture and theology. It seems like there are a million different ways to understand the Bible and I think I ran across every one of them during my wanderings. Some of our differences were minor and often based on our own unique perspectives. We each look at the text from our own point of view, understand it from our own experience and see it as we need to see it in our current circumstances. Sometimes, however, I ran across people who saw God’s Word in a way that we might even be able to call it heretical. All too many believe they have been given “special knowledge” of the scriptures and claim that if others do not understand what they are saying that they have not received the same ‘gift.’ “Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal it to you,” they would answer, and then walk away as if they were superior.

Some of these folk found themselves unable to cope in a regular congregation of believers. Their ideas were so different and their attitude so haughty that they found fault with everything and everybody. So, instead of being involved in a local congregation, they created their own, calling themselves priests and prophets and gathering a few people, either in their homes or on the Internet, who would follow their teachings. They had nothing good to say about the visible church on earth, and felt that they were the chosen ones, a remnant anointed by God to declare the world’s sin.

One such woman granted me a great deal of respect in the beginning of our conversations. She told me that she was taking courses on how to be a prophet and that she was starting a house church where she was preaching to a few followers. She emailed me one of her sermons. This writing was so full of error that it made me sad for those who were attending her meetings. She misquoted the scriptures, misidentified the passages, and her interpretations were far from reality because she was mixing ideas and themes from completely unrelated texts. Since she had asked for my opinion and some suggestions, I made some notes on the writing. She was so offended by my response that she answered me with a warning that she was one of God’s prophets and that I should beware.

I don’t know what happened to her, but I do know she was not a prophet. At least she was not a prophet like those we read about in the Old Testament or those who are called in today’s world to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She was self-appointed. She was twisting God’s Word to fit into her meanings and her agenda. This was true of this woman, though it is not true of all people who disagree with us on scripture and theology. We have to be on communication with other faithful people to hear God’s Word and to know what He is calling us to do in our world. Perhaps that was her biggest problem. She’s disconnected from the Church God had given to us to help us grow and mature in faith, and she went her own way.

In some ways, the Jews of Jesus’ day of during the days of the early Church, must have thought they were going on a strange and dangerous path. As a matter of fact, in the time when the book of Hebrews was written, there was a resurgence of Jewish faith. There was a question whether or not ‘the Way’ was real or acceptable. Many people were willing to fall back into the pagan roots or return to their Jewish heritage because everything was so different. The writer of Hebrews, however, tells us that Jesus was not like that woman I met online. He was not self-appointed. He was called by God, called the Son of God from God’s voice, and He was doing not His own will but the will of the Father. He was obedient, glorified not by what He did, but what God did for Him. He was Priest and King not because He decided he wanted to be, but because God promised that He would be.

We don’t choose our calling. We simply choose whether or not we will be obedient to the will and purpose of God. In doing so, we receive all that He has promised.


March 24, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, March 29, 2009: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm:9-16; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

John 12:20-33 Now there were certain Greeks among those that went up to worship at the feast: these therefore came to Philip, who was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: Andrew cometh, and Philip, and they tell Jesus. And Jesus answereth them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit. He that loveth his life loseth it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will the Father honor. Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour. But for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. There came therefore a voice out of heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The multitude therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it had thundered: others said, An angel hath spoken to him. Jesus answered and said, This voice hath not come for my sake, but for your sakes. Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself. But this he said, signifying by what manner of death he should die.

Zack and I went to see the movie “Knowing” last week. I don’t want to talk about it too much because I know there are many people who have not yet seen it who may want to. It is nearly impossible to talk about this film without letting spoiling some surprise. It is definitely not what most people expected when they walked through the door, Zack and I included. Now that the movie has been out for a weekend, many people have posted their reviews and impressions. It is amazing that even after seeing the movie, many people still don’t know what to expect from it.

I’ve read everything from “it is an atheist film” to “it is a fundamentalist Christian film.” How two people can see such different things is incredible. Certain characters are interpreted as being demons or angels or aliens. Some think it is an anti-science film, while others think it is an anti-Christian film. Some find religious symbolism in every detail. The genre is even hard to pinpoint. It is generally accepted to be a sci-fi thriller, but others have suggested that it could fall under action, mystery or drama. While I agree that the film can studied for its religious symbolism, the author says that it is meant to be a story of a father and son relationship. I saw it as a coming to faith, or perhaps a return to faith, story. It was not necessarily about coming to Christian faith, but about trusting in the promise of something beyond our human reach. I suppose that’s why some see it as Christian and some see it as anti-Christian. It was not always true to biblical understanding, but it had themes of faith. As shocking as some of the film turned out to be, I liked it.

Things are not always as we see them to be. I could be completely wrong about my interpretation of the film. Some of the reviewers have made interesting points. Many of the people I know did not like the film, especially the ending. It was definitely not what any of us expected.

Our passage for today is the beginning of the end for Jesus. He tells the disciples that “the hour has come.” The catalyst seems to be the coming of some Greek believers who are in Jerusalem for the Passover. They are looking to meet with Jesus. They aren’t necessarily from Greece, but are from the Greek speaking world, which is separate from the Jewish world. Jesus is having such an impact on everyone, all the nations, that they are beginning to seek Him out. The world is ready to judge Jesus for His work.

However, what we know is really happening is that God is about to judge the world for the works of fallible human beings. The “ruler of this world” is about to be defeated, not with military might but in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The world thinks they are casting out a troublemaker, crucifying a rebel, but in reality God is destroying the hold of sin and death on His beloved people. We look at the story of Jesus and are saddened by the necessity of His horrific death on the cross, and yet in that very death He was glorified and God was glorified by His obedience. It seems like the end of a story we do not like, but we know the rest. We know that Easter will come. And when Easter comes, the world will see God’s grace and mercy.


March 25, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, March 29, 2009: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm:9-16; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

Psalm 119:9-16 Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: Oh let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I laid up in my heart, That I might not sin against thee. Blessed art thou, O Jehovah: Teach me thy statutes. With my lips have I declared All the ordinances of thy mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, As much as in all riches. I will meditate on thy precepts, And have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.

The scriptures tell us that David had a heart for God. As a matter of fact, David was chosen to be king of Israel because God could see that his heart was in the right place. God doesn’t look for the strongest, or the most intelligent, or the most beautiful people to do His work; He looks for those who love Him and trust in His promises. David was a man like that, but he was also a sinner. The other psalm for this week was sung by David in response to Nathan’s accusation.

See, David fell in love with a married woman. He invited her to His palace while her husband was serving in David’s army on the front lines of a war. She became pregnant and David felt such guilt that he brought Uriah home to have sex with his wife so that it would appear to be his child. Uriah felt too much guilt about enjoying time with his wife while his fellow soldiers were dying on the battlefield, so he refused to lie with her. David knew no other way to solve his problem, so he sent Uriah back to the front lines and ensured his death. Bathsheba the widow was brought into his home as his wife and the child was accepted as his.

Psalm 119 was not written by David, but he could have sung the words. He believed in God and sought God’s mercy and grace. In Psalm 51, David cries out “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight.” He sinned against others: against Uriah and Bathsheba. He even sinned against his people because he lied to them and he stole one of their own from their midst. But David understood the reality of our sin: no matter what we do, no matter whether or not our sin is ‘victimless’ or affects a nation, our sin is against the Lord. When we do what is wrong, we break our relationship with God. Even from birth we are broken and in need of God’s grace.

So, David asks to be cleaned; he asks for his heart to be made pure. We know that God saw his heart and that God knew he was righteous, but God also knew the deepest secrets of his heart. It seems contradictory, but it is the reality of our existence. We are saints and sinners, righteous by God’s grace, yet still capable of sinning against God and one another.

So we, like the psalmist, ask the question found in today’s passage. “Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way?” How do we keep our way pure? God has given us a path to follow. He’s given us a book to read. He has given us His word to dwell in our hearts so that we will be strengthened to try to be all that He has created and called us to be. We are righteous in our hearts because of what Christ has done, and with those failing hearts we seek God. We beg that He will help us walk rightly, that He will teach us to do that which will glorify Him in the world. Jesus obeyed unto death, glorifying God on the cross. By His grace we can at least treasure the Word He has placed in our hearts and constantly seek what that Word means in our daily lives.


March 26, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, April 5, 2009: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 15:1-39 [40-47]

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?

Some of the most popular video games these days are being targeted at older players. They are brain games, 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. It is literally good for you to learn something new each day.

I’m not sure many of us do that enough. We go about our daily chores, spend hours at work, then we watch television and 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 those video games are gaining popularity. They don’t seem like we are doing anything of substance; they are games, after all, and nothing more than mindless ways to pass the time. But, the right games actually do make a difference.

Part of our problem with learning new things is that we think we know enough. Some of us think we know everything. We don’t pursue intellectual interests because theirs is nothing left for us to learn that will make a difference. They say that everything you need to know you learned in Kindergarten. I suppose in some ways that is true. The common sense things to get through each day are 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 because they did not have all the information they needed to give an right answer to the questions being asked. From them we learn that it is good to keep learning, even if it is a subject about which we have a great deal of information.

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 and continues to give the knowledge the Servant needs to do the work He is called to do. It seems to me that 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. In this passage we see that 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.


March 27, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, April 5, 2009: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 15:1-39 [40-47]

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.

“Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not after you.” This may be a favorite saying of conspiracy theorists, or at least it is used humorously when talking about conspiracies. On the television show “Dharma and Greg,” Dharma’s dad Larry is a hippie radical leftover from the sixties, an extreme stereotype of the anti-government, free-will movement. He often thinks someone is out to get him, that everyone is a spy for the government and that everything is a conspiracy against him. When Dharma decided to run for city council, he was sure someone, or everyone, would want to destroy her.

So, it is from people like Larry that we get the saying “Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not after you.” Paranoia is a state of being in which the sufferer is overwhelmed by anxiety or fear, often responding irrationally or experiencing delusions. The root of the word is Greek and it means “madness” or “outside, mind.”

Another state of being that is often confused with paranoia is phobia. A phobia is a morbid fear of something, so overwhelming that it can cause people to avoid certain activities, things or people. Most people are afraid of something, but there are many who are so afraid that they can’t deal with it normally. The main difference between paranoid thoughts and phobias is that paranoia assigns blame to someone or something for the fear. The paranoid person is afraid that someone is going to use the object of fear to harm them. The phobic is just afraid of the obeject.

In the introduction for this psalm in my NIV Study Bible, the writer states, “[This psalm is] A prayer for deliverance when confronted by a conspiracy so powerful and open that all David’s friends abandoned him.” In this psalm, David writes about the troubles he’s facing: sorrowful, weak, forgotten, like a dead man and broken vessel. He’s been defamed and threatened. If we heard someone like Larry speak a psalm like this today, we’d just say he was paranoid. But as they say, “Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not after you.” Perhaps David was just paranoid, but we know from the stories of his life and his rule over Israel that there was always someone who wanted to see him dethroned or dead. It is enough to make someone live in fear constantly.

But David did not live in fear. He lived in trust and faith. He believed that God would deliver him from his enemies and that he would be vindicated. It never got easier for David, or for David’s offspring. There was always some threat looming around the corner. However, God was faithful to His promises, giving the world the only One son of David who could face the fear and defeat it forever. Jesus must have felt similar things when He was journeying toward the cross. The conspiracy against Him was not kept quiet. The leaders wanted Him dead. They schemed and planned, even reaching into Jesus’ inner circle to find the one person who would willingly give Him up to them for money. Jesus was abandoned by almost everyone in the end. As He hung on the cross only one disciple and a few women came to mourn over His life and death.

But we know that the cross was not the end of Jesus. We know that He trusted that God’s promises overcome death and the grave, beginning with His life and passed on to ours. We might be afraid of things. We might even think people are out to get us. But we need not respond to our fears by dealing with them irrationally or taking extreme measures. The things and people of this world can not overcome the life God has promised us through Jesus Christ. If we face our paranoia and our phobias with trust in God, we’ll live in peace despite the reality of our circumstances.


March 30, 2009

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.

In October 2004, the BBC reported about the toilet habits of Martin Luther. The catalyst of the article was the recent archeological discovery of the lavatory in Martin Luther’s house in Wittenberg. Apparently, Martin Luther was candid about his bowel troubles; he was a sufferer of constipation, so spent a great deal of time on the toilet. He didn’t waste his time there, but used it to contemplate the things of God. The article from BBC News says, “Luther is quoted as saying he was ‘in cloaca,’ or in the sewer, when he was inspired to argue that salvation is granted because of faith, not deeds.” So, the archeologists were quite excited to find this lavatory because it was possibly the sight of one of the most important theological revelations in the history of the Christian church. Martin Luther’s understanding of faith and grace was the foundation of the Reformation.

Now, a man’s toilet habits are generally none of our business, and it seems quite trivial when we consider the great things Martin Luther did in his life. After all, he wrote dozens of books about the scriptures, preached hundreds of sermons, and changed our understanding of faith and grace and the church. He was a doctor, a priest, a teacher. He was a husband and the father of many children. He was highly respected not only by the members of his own congregation, but by princes and other world leaders. On the other hand, he hated by many for his stand on church issues.

He was also hated for his crudity and his commonness. He refused to be set apart as something special because he was educated and in a position of authority. He believed the common people had a right to education, and that they should be able to read the scriptures for themselves. He fought for full participation in worship and the sacraments. He took care of people’s needs, both spiritual and physical. He believed that God created both body and spirit, and that God cared for the physical as well as the spiritual. He said that all Christians belonged to the “priesthood of believers.” He taught that every person has a vocation and even those jobs that are not spiritual. To him, changing a diaper or cleaning the stalls of the horses was as important as the work of a bishop, because they were jobs that helped others. He insisted that every person, no matter their position in this world or the work they were called to do, glorified God when they were obedient to that call. He was an earthy man, who looked at faith from an earthy perspective.

God does set us apart as Christians, but many Christians believe that God has set us above others. We are set apart because through faith we have been forgiven and made new. But that does not mean we can lord over those who have not yet found Jesus Christ. We aren’t appointed as their judges or called to force them into our way of living. It is not for us to strive to be anyone’s spiritual guide or father. Faith in Jesus does not make us God, it makes us servants of God who are sent into the world to share the grace God has given to us. Jesus didn’t come to be made king, though the people wanted to appoint Him as their earthly ruler. He didn’t come to take over the Temple and be the High Priest. He didn’t come to be set on a pedestal and worshipped as a god-figure in this world. He came to serve and to teach us to serve humbly.

That’s why Paul writes, “Have this mind in you.” Jesus Christ did not come to be God in this world. He was God, but gave up equality with God to become man and to live with us in this world. He experienced what we experienced. He was tempted as we are tempted. He experienced hunger, thirst, pain and heartache. His feet surely got tired and He must have used a toilet. His humility is what saved us; His obedience is not only an example for us to imitate but is the very foundation of the salvation that God has promised to all who believe. We are to have the same mind. It isn’t our mission to lord over all who do not believe as we believe. We are called to be humble, to be a servant for God, to glorify Him in our lives so that the world will see Him and believe.


March 31, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, April 5, 2009: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 15:1-39 [40-47]

Many churches will read the extended lectionary offered for this Sunday, which is Mark 14:1-15:47. This text is much too long to quote in this email, although I highly suggest that we all read it at least once before Sunday, perhaps more than once. It is good for us to consider this story which takes us through the events of Holy Week. A great deal happens in this short span of time.

The passage begins in Bethany, as Jesus is anointed at the home of Simon the leper. At the same time, the chief priests and teachers of the law were scheming about how to destroy Jesus’ ministry. They knew it was important to stop Jesus, but also that they do it in a way that would not set the crowds against them. The people were beginning to see Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior of the nation of Israel, and the leaders were concerned that the people would rebel is they did not act with caution. Mark’s version of this story has fewer details than the other Gospel writers, but we know that she had pure nard which she poured over his head. Some of the disciples were upset by the waste, but Jesus used the experience as another opportunity to talk about His death. We know that Judas, from the other stories, was one of those upset about the cost of the perfume. He slipped out to betray Jesus.

The next event we hear is the story of the Lord’s Supper. It was the day when the Passover lamb was slaughtered, a very special meal for the Jews. In this story we can see how Jesus and His disciples were wanderers with no place of their own or family with which to celebrate. The disciples asked where He wanted to celebrate. Jesus had already planned for the meal, preparing a place for them to gather. The disciples found everything as Jesus had said. At the dinner, Jesus revealed that one of them would betray Him and one would deny Him. They couldn’t believe it, each denying that they would be the one. Despite the betrayal and denial, Jesus ate this special meal with the Twelve and the others present that day, sharing with them the hope of His presence in their lives, establishing the covenant of forgiveness and grace we still celebrate with bread and wine. Despite their commitment to Jesus, He tells them that they will all fall away. Peter denies it, insisting that he would follow Jesus into death.

After the dinner, Jesus and His disciples went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. In this story we see Jesus wrangling between His human desire for life and His divine calling to die. He is obedient, but in this passage we see how closely Jesus’ identifies with us. The disciples are facing a battle of their own against the affects of a huge dinner and the peace of a cool evening in the garden, keep falling asleep though Jesus needs them to be strong for Him in this difficult time. The third time He finds them asleep, we see Judas returning with the crowds of soldiers.

In the following passages Jesus is arrested and tried. Peter denies Jesus, just as Jesus said he would. Jesus faces the Sanhedrin and Pilate, the first unable to put Him to death, the second unwilling to do so. In the end, Pilate has no choice but to do what is meant to be done, so Jesus is sent to the cross. Those last few steps were probably the most difficult of Jesus’ life. He was beaten and mocked, forced to carry His cross until He was unable to do so. On Golgotha, Jesus was nailed to a cross and raised for all to see. Even then, in those horrific moments, the people continued their cruelty. The soldiers cast lots for His clothes. The chief priests and teachers of the law insulted Him, told Him to prove He was the Messiah by saving Himself.

His death came quickly. Mark gives us a few final words from Jesus. He cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which Mark translates to me, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” The people gathered at the base of the cross misinterpreted His cry, thinking that He was calling for Elijah to save Him. He was, more likely, remembering Psalm 22, part of which we heard a few weeks ago. In that psalm, David cries out as a godly sufferer, and by turning to those words Jesus identifies with the pain of David and all the people who suffer. It is a psalm of comfort, which gives hope to the sufferer in the midst of their trial by remembering the promises of God.

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed His last breath. We see some amazing things in this part of the story. The curtain in the Temple is ripped from top to bottom, as God is no longer kept hidden away in the Holy of Holies. A Roman centurion who witnessed the death confessed that what they had witnessed was more than they realized by saying, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” The women followers of Jesus refused to leave Him alone even as His disciples went into hiding. They showed the strength to persevere as only a woman—a mother, sister, and friend—can show.

Finally, we see that because it was an important day in the Jewish calendar the people had to quickly put Jesus’ body into a tomb. Joseph of Arimathea, an important member of the Sanhedrin, approaches Pilate for the body. This is a surprise, considering the Sanhedrin were so intent on seeing Jesus humiliated and killed. However, we learn from this story that not all the leaders were in agreement with the verdict. Some believed in Jesus. In the end, Joseph was willing to risk his power and position for the sake of justice. They quickly wrapped Jesus in a cloth and placed him in a tomb. The women watched where He was laid so that they could return after the holy day and take care of Jesus’ body.

This is a lot of story to read. It has been presented in many ways, by many people, with their own vision of those events. Perhaps the most famous right now is the movie “The Passion of the Christ” that was created by Mel Gibson. It is hard to watch a movie that shows so much pain and suffering of the One we love, and yet it is a powerful film to reminds us what Jesus really went through for our sakes. What do you hear and see when you read the story? What moments stand out for you? If you were to make a film, what form would it take? Which characters do you identify with? Where is the triumph? Where is the defeat? Who is in control? What promises do we see fulfilled? Where is the grace?