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





Living Water



















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


May 1, 2008

Scriptures for May 11, 2008, Day of Pentecost: Acts 2:1-1 or Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39

Numbers 11:24-30 And Moses went out, and told the people the words of Jehovah: and he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the Tent. And Jehovah came down in the cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and put it upon the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but they did so no more. But there remained two men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the Spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but had not gone out unto the Tent; and they prophesied in the camp. And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp. And Joshua the son of Nun, the minister of Moses, one of his chosen men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him, Art thou jealous for my sake? would that all Jehovah's people were prophets, that Jehovah would put his Spirit upon them! And Moses gat him into the camp, he and the elders of Israel.

There is a commercial on the radio that talks about the decisions business owners have to make. In the beginning, when a business is just starting, the decisions are major. What kind of business should we have? Where shall we build? How can we fund this project? It is an exciting time. As a business grows, the decisions are less exciting. Should we build a new warehouse? Can we afford to hire more employees? What changes do we need to make to the way we keep our finances and run our business?

Sadly, I don’t even know what the commercial advertises, but I think it is for a company that helps make those unexciting decisions for a business. There are plenty of companies that can be hired by small businesses to take care of payroll and legal issues. That leaves the business owner the time and the resources to deal with the more exciting parts of business, such as expanding product lines or hiring more employees. Growth is terrific, the goal of every business. But there comes a time when the company outgrows the ability of one person or a small group of people to manage the work. There comes a time when the owner has to give up some of the responsibility to others.

Moses was overwhelmed. He was leading a million people away from slavery into an unknown Promised Land. He only knew what God had told him and that God was faithful. He did not know when they would arrive or what they would find when they got there. The people were tired. They were hungry. They were scared. They wanted to go back to the place from whence they came, despite the slavery under which they had suffered. At least in Egypt they had good food to eat, plenty of water to drink. In Egypt they had roofs over their heads and they did not have to walk endlessly through the desert. Slavery seemed the much better choice in this situation and they complained. Moses did not know how he, one man, could possibly handle the people any longer.

God told Moses to gather the elders of Israel. When they were gathered, He took the spirit that rested on Moses and divided it among the other elders. He gave them the authority to lead the people, to share in Moses’ responsibility. He took some of the burden from Moses and laid it on others. It is hard to come to the point of letting go. A store owner who opens a second store must hire someone to manage at least one location because he or she can not be in more than one place at a time. The business person must find to trust and allow him or her to do the work for which they were hired. They have to give over at least some of the control.

Joshua was not ready for Moses to let go of the control. It was not a problem that the elders were gathered and given some of the Spirit. It was not a problem that those who had been gathered were going to share in the responsibility and burden of care for the people. However, he was disturbed when the Spirit also fell on some men who had not come to the gathering. “Tell them to stop,” Joshua told Moses. Moses was not bothered by this development because he knew that it came from God. God is in control, not Moses. As a matter of fact, Moses would have preferred for every Hebrew to prophecy for the Lord. This was a hope that would come into fulfillment long after Moses died, after Jesus, when God did give the Spirit to all those who believe.


May 2, 2008

Scriptures for May 11, 2008, Day of Pentecost: Acts 2:1-1 or Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b (I have included all of verse 35 in this text) O Jehovah, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: The earth is full of thy riches. Yonder is the sea, great and wide, Wherein are things creeping innumerable, Both small and great beasts. There go the ships; There is leviathan, whom thou hast formed to play therein. These wait all for thee, That thou mayest give them their food in due season. Thou givest unto them, they gather; Thou openest thy hand, they are satisfied with good. Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled; Thou takest away their breath, they die, And return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created; And thou renewest the face of the ground. Let the glory of Jehovah endure for ever; Let Jehovah rejoice in his works: Who looketh on the earth, and it trembleth; He toucheth the mountains, and they smoke. I will sing unto Jehovah as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have any being. Let thy meditation be sweet unto him: I will rejoice in Jehovah. Let sinners be consumed out of the earth. And let the wicked be no more. Bless Jehovah, O my soul. Praise ye Jehovah.

The world is changed when a baby is born. Perhaps the differences are small enough that it is unnoticeable to most people, but the world of those to whom the baby is born is certainly changed. A baby changes the sleeping habits of parents. The finances have to be adjusted for a new mouth to feed. The interrelationship between family members naturally has to change because there is someone new in the group. Baby toys litter the floor. Parents need to buy special furniture, special food and dozens of other necessities. Many families move from sporty vehicles to mini-vans when a child is born. Their world changes and is renewed by the birth of a baby.

Though the effects on the world might seem insignificant, the world can’t possibly stay the same once a new person has joined it. Jimmy Stewart starred in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” which showed how much one person can affect the circumstances for thousands. George Bailey, Stewart’s character, ran into some problems with his business, troubles that were going to affect his family and many people in his town. He thought that if he had not been born, then everyone would be spared the problems he caused. He wished that he had never been alive. Clarence, a new and inexperienced angel, gave him his wish. He made the world as if George had never existed. George quickly discovered that he’d had a much more positive impact than he ever thought. His brother died because he wasn’t around to save him from drowning. People who had been helped by George’s kindness fell into greater problems because he wasn’t there to give them loans. The entire town was different because the wicked banker took advantage of the people that George had helped.

We don’t know how our one life might have made a difference in the world. It may be something as simple as a word of kindness for someone we’ll never remember but who went on to do great things because we gave them the courage or strength to get through another day. Our children may go on to change the world with their gifts and talents, children that would never exist if we had never been born. Our small donation to a food bank might give someone a second chance and then that person might just go on to change a town, a country or even the world.

The psalmist says, “Thou sendest forth they Spirit, they are created; and thou renewest the face of the ground.” God breathes on every baby born and they become living beings. Every baby born changes and renews the earth. There is no person who has been created by God that is not loved by Him and for whom He has a great and wonderful purpose. Their very existence means that the world will be a new and different place.

I included verse 35a in the reading for today, a verse that is removed from the lectionary assignment. I understand the reason for ignoring this sentence because it does not seem to be in keeping with the praise and worship of the rest of psalm. “And let the wicked be no more.” However, if we take this verse in context with the promise of Pentecost and the reality of God’s life-changing breath, we can see how this is not a condemnation of wickedness but rather a hope for sinners. When God breathes on His people, they are changed. Though they are sinners, by faith they become saints. When God transforms a person, he or she is wicked no more. We are made righteous by God’s breath, created and the earth is renewed. The world is changed because God has taken away the wickedness by which all human flesh is oppressed and made us new to go out and glorify God by sharing His Word and His goodness with others.


May 5, 2008

Scriptures for May 11, 2008, Day of Pentecost: Acts 2:1-1 or Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 …and no man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are diversities of ministrations, and the same Lord. And there are diversities of workings, but the same God, who worketh all things in all. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal. For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit: to another faith, in the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healings, in the one Spirit; and to another workings of miracles; and to another prophecy; and to another discernings of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; and to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one severally even as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit.

The theatre department at Victoria’s school won the State Championship last weekend. They did a terrific job with the play and are now enjoying the fruits of their labor with performances for their families and friends. Though they have had fun all along, they no longer have the stress of competition. Their mistakes won’t mean the difference between a win and a loss. They can allow the audience to laugh without concern about their time. They can show off their talents without the fear of breaking a rule. They can relax and perform with the knowledge that they are giving their friends and family a wonderful gift—the gift of laughter.

This is an interesting group of kids. They are very much individuals, each unique in their abilities. The director did a marvelous job choosing the right kids for the right rolls. After the show last night, I overheard one parent say to one of the actors, “I forgot that it was you on the stage.” They were so deep in their characters that they had become one unit, a zany group of actors in a repertory theatre company in Buffalo, New York. Each individual student was a unique individual, but they were one with the others.

In last week’s Gospel lesson, Jesus prayed that the disciples would be one with Him and with one another. Sometimes we confuse oneness with uniformity. We think that to be one with God and with other Christians that we have to look, sound and act like everyone else. Unfortunately, this attitude leads to disputes between Christians all the time, especially when people are passionate about the work they do for God in this world. Some are gifted to uplift other Christians while some are gifted to speak as witnesses to the world. Some are called to serve while others are called to preach and teach. God has created a perfect machine made up of many different parts. The Church is that machine and individuals are the parts. Each one is important to the whole, and together we do the work of God in this world.

The list of gifts found in today’s passage are the Gifts of the Spirit. The Bible also gives us lists of gifts that are motivational. The difference is that God uses our natural abilities to accomplish His work with the motivational gifts. With the gifts of the Spirit, God simply works through the physical body of the believer to accomplish the work.

Those with wisdom know the mind of the Holy Spirit in such a way as to receive insight into how given knowledge may best be applied to specific needs arising in the body of Christ. Those with the gift of knowledge have an exceptionally thorough understanding and grasp of the great truths of divine revelation, particularly of the Gospel, usually coupled with the ability to expound them in a clear and convincing manner. People with the gift of faith (differentiated from the faith every Christian is given) demonstrate a heroic, unwavering trust and confidence in the power of God. Healing is a special gift that comes through human intermediaries whom it pleases God to use to cure illness and restore health apart from the use of natural means. The gift of miracles is given by the Holy Spirit to certain members of the church who serve as human intermediaries through whom it pleases God to perform powerful acts that are perceived by observers to have altered the ordinary course of nature. The gift of prophecy is one where the believer is able to speak things which they have no way of knowing except by the Spirit, such as the foretelling of future events. Discernment is a special gift that helps one to know with assurance whether certain behaviors or words purported to be of God is in reality divine, demonic, psychological or artificial. The gifts of tongues and the interpretation of tongues are given so that certain members of the church can speak and understand in a language which they have not learned. These two gifts are given together: someone with the gift of tongues will be accompanied by someone with the gift of interpretation.

No one person receives all the gifts, whether they are these gifts of the Spirit or any of the other gifts listed in the scriptures. We are all part of one body, individuals with our own gifts and purpose, none more important than another. We are unified, but that does not mean uniformity. Diversity is as much a part of the Church as is our common bonds. We simply have to learn to live together, understanding that we aren’t all going to be the same. We will be different, because that is how God created us to be. But He has called us to be one with Him and with Christ Jesus in the work that we do, each part giving according to the measure we have been given.


May 6, 2008

Scriptures for May 11, 2008, Day of Pentecost: Acts 2:1-1 or Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39

John 20:19-23 When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had said this, he showed unto them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord. Jesus therefore said to them again, Peace be unto you: as the Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit: whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

Or John 7:37-39 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, from within him shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believed on him were to receive: for the Spirit was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Felix does not like the veterinarian’s office. I know most animals do not like to go to the vet—they aren’t much different than people in that way. Who of us really likes to go to the doctor to get poked and prodded? We know that it is a necessary part of living, important to taking care of ourselves, so we go. Animals do not have that sort of reasoning ability. All they know is that the veterinarian’s office smells funny, and that strangers will touch them against their will.

One day I took Felix to the vet for his annual shots and check-up. Felix does not like to be cornered and he responds to captivity like a wild animal. There is a chance that he is part wild, he came from England and the father cat was at least part English wild cat. So, I tried to hug and love him, to help the assistants give him his shots but he freaked out. He scratched with his back feet and in the struggle managed to get my finger into his mouth. His muscles are extraordinarily strong and he managed to bit clear through my middle finger, an incisor on the top and an incisor on the bottom. He didn’t mean to hurt me, he was just frightened even after all these years.

We assistant grabbed my hand and dragged me to the sink. She used surgical soap and running water to clean out the wound. She did this for a matter of minutes; it seemed much longer than necessary. Eventually they bound my wound with gauze and tape, and then suggested I go get a rabies shot. I thought it was all a little over done; after all it was just a small bite on my finger. I learned later that cat saliva can be deadly to humans. She ran the water over my wound for so long to ensure that all possible toxins were washed away. Everything turned out fine. Though the tip of my finger was swollen for a day or two, everything healed fine and I lived to tell about it. It might have been a very different story if the assistant did not do such a thorough job cleaning my finger.

In the passage from John 7, Jesus was teaching in the temple during Sukkoth, or the festival of Booths. It was a time to thank God for His abundant generosity at the harvest. The adherents built small booths, or tabernacles, to represent God’s protection. They lived and ate in the booths for seven days. Other rituals accompanied the celebrations. Jesus spoke to them on the seventh day, when great quantities of water were poured over the altar. The water ran off of the altar, onto the floor and it flowed out of the temple into the valley below. Though this was not originally part of the festival, it had become an important aspect to the people as they sought God’s blessings for their winter planting. It was not an act of faith or obedience, defined by God to be a part of the celebration. It was a pagan ritual that the people had adopted so that they might feel assured of God’s provision. It was as if they thought God did not know they needed water to live.

Jesus saw this ritual and cried out, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” When we drink of the water that comes from God, by His Holy Spirit, living water will wash through our lives into the world. The promised Spirit came to the disciples at Pentecost; He comes to us at baptism and continues to come to us as we live our lives of faith. The Spirit does not come for our own assurance or benefit, but so that the living water of Christ might flow into the world. We use our gifts to share the message which Christ came to give—forgiveness. He sent the disciples, and so now sends us, to take that message into the world so that the world might be saved.


May 7, 2008

Scriptures for May 11, 2008, Day of Pentecost: Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39

Acts 2:1-21 And when the day of Pentecost was now come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire; and it sat upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound was heard, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speaking in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying, Behold, are not all these that speak Galilaeans? And how hear we, every man in our own language wherein we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, in Judaea and Cappadocia, in Pontus and Asia, in Phrygia and Pamphylia, in Egypt and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and sojourners from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them speaking in our tongues the mighty works of God. And they were all amazed, and were perplexed, saying one to another, What meaneth this? But others mocking said, They are filled with new wine. But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spake forth unto them, saying, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and give ear unto my words. For these are not drunken, as ye suppose; seeing it is but the third hour of the day. but this is that which hath been spoken through the prophet Joel: And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh: And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, And your young men shall see visions, And your old men shall dream dreams: Yea and on my servants and on my handmaidens in those days Will I pour forth of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heaven above, And signs on the earth beneath; Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the day of the Lord come, That great and notable day. And it shall be, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

I don’t remember the circumstances, but when I was young I remember swimming in a hotel pool when I met a group of young people from another country. They spoke no English, or at least that was what I thought. We got along for a few minutes until they began to laugh. As it turned out, they were just fooling with me. They were American kids playing a joke on a stranger.

I was friends with an exchange student from Ecuador when I was in high school. She was attending our school the year I was taking Spanish. She helped me with my language lessons. Unfortunately, I had also taken two years of French and a year of German before I began Spanish. Though they are different languages, they come from similar sources and are similar in many ways. Mercedes, my friend, taught me some Spanish words that I did not need in class. Unfortunately, this made for hilarious confusion on one of my tests: I used the words Mercedes taught me instead of the words I had learned in class. My teacher asked, “Has Mercedes been helping you with your Spanish?”

When we lived in England, I took a bus trip to Calais, France with some friends. It was a shopping trip and one of our stops was at a large American style mall. I found a Disney Store and went in to see what they might have for the kids. Now, I am far from fluent in French, but I took a couple years of high school classes and I have enough to be polite and ask a few questions. When I approached the counter I greeted the cashier in his language. He smiled and returned the greeting in long and flowing speech. I help up my hands and said, “Whoa, I don’t know that much French!” He answered in perfect English, “I know. I was just playing with you.”

My mom and dad came to visit us in England. We went to a restaurant similar to Denny’s one day while we were touring the country. The waitress approached our table to give us the specials of the day and my mother could not understand a word she was saying. My mom said, “Could you speak English please?” The waitress answered, “I am. It is our language, you know.” They say that the Americans and the English are separated by a common language and at times that is very true.

We went to a fast food place somewhere in Europe and purchased a kids meal. The toy came with instructions written in a dozen languages. Language is an interesting thing. When I was a child, I was not familiar with a multi-lingual community. Now that I have been part of the military, traveled the world and live in Texas, it is not surprising to hear other languages being spoken. I find information on packaging written in English, Spanish, French and other languages. Instructions in electronics and furniture are often given in multiple languages. The world has become so small that the news is filled with stories that require translators so that we might understand what the leaders or reporters are saying. We aren’t surprised when we hear someone speaking a different language.

Jews from all over the known world were in Jerusalem for the Pentecost celebration. Pentecost was a festival for the first fruits of the harvest. They had brought with them offerings of wheat, figs, olives and grapes to praise God for His goodness. I imagine it was an exciting time, but also a confusing time. After all, though they were Jews, they lived in foreign lands and knew foreign tongues. They may have been familiar with Hebrew from the scriptures, but Hebrew was not the commonly spoken language of the day.

In today’s passage, we hear how the listeners felt about this experience. Some were perplexed, others were amazed and some just thought it was silliness due to drunkenness. Peter stood up before the people and explained that this was the fulfillment of the promise given through the prophet Joel, that the Spirit would come upon all people and they would do amazing things. Certainly, the fact that people from all over the world could hear the message of forgiveness in their own language was a most miraculous thing, especially since most of the disciples were uneducated laborers who probably only knew Aramaic fluently, enough Hebrew for worship and perhaps just enough Greek necessary for business. They barely knew the message they were giving in their own tongues! But Jesus sent the helper, the Spirit of God who gave voice to what they knew to be true in their hearts and the words to make it understandable to others.


May 8, 2008

Scriptures for May 18, 2008, Holy Trinity: Genesis 1:1-2:4b; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

Genesis 1:1-2:4b In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let the earth put forth grass, herbs yielding seed, and fruit-trees bearing fruit after their kind, wherein is the seed thereof, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, herbs yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, wherein is the seed thereof, after their kind: and God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day. And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years: and let them be for lights in the firmament of heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made the two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day. And God said, Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And God created the great sea-monsters, and every living creature that moveth, wherewith the waters swarmed, after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind: and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth. And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day. And God said, Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind, cattle, and creeping things, and beasts of the earth after their kind: and it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creepeth upon the ground after its kind: and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them: and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food: and to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the heavens, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for food: and it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. And the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it; because that in it he rested from all his work which God had created and made. These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created

The scriptures for this week helps us focus on one of the most confusing and mystifying aspects of the Christian faith—the Trinity. How do you explain the unexplainable? Some theologians in the sixth century set out to explain the Trinity in language which the common man could understand and it took approximately seven hundred words. The Athanasian Creed, which is often used in churches on Trinity Sunday, seems to go around and around in circles dividing the persons of the Trinity while holding them together. It is a long creed to recite and generally brings a sigh of annoyance from the congregation whenever it is said.

We begin this week with the Creation story, another aspect of Christianity that can bring confusion and debate. We can easily get involved with the question of evolution and the six day creation. However, sometimes we need to look at something beyond the words on the page and try to see the One behind the words. The creation story tells us about God the Creator and His love for His people. The details are interesting to discuss and important to study, but today we’ll look at the story and how we can respond to this Creator.

In the beginning, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered it. The Creator was able to speak and transform that formless and dark void into something new. He said, “Let there be light” and there was light. He ordered the days and the substance. He brought order to the chaos. He filled the emptiness with good things. He did all this in a way that makes sense, each day building upon the work of the next day. He did not create the animals before there was food for them to eat. He did not create plants until the land and the sea were separated in a way that would provide all that the plants would need to survive. He did not create the fish before there were bodies of water in which they could live. In this story we see that God is. We see that God is powerful, compassionate, wise, capable and magnificent.

How do we respond to the story of the creation? We respond first with fear and trembling. The Creator, who can bring order out of chaos and life out of nothingness is certainly powerful and worthy of our awe. Based on this story we can trust in God, because God provides for our every need. It is humbling for us to see the wisdom of God, not only in this story but in the creation that exists outside our windows. How is it that the bluebonnets know to spring forth in March of every year? And how do the animals learn to migrate? Everything is according to God’s plan, the earth turns and is recreated daily according to His design and purpose. There is comfort in knowing that in our times of difficulty, God is able and willing to transform our lives with just a word, to bring order out of our chaos and hope out of our emptiness. The One who has created this world in which we live must, of necessity, be magnificent, greater than all of creation. This is the God worthy of praise and worship. God spoke and it was good.

We can’t possibly understand God completely, for He is greater than anything we can even imagine. However, He is good. He is trustworthy. He is faithful. We can believe in Him, not out of reason but out of faith. There is a place for reason, a place to study the words and try to understand what they mean. But for today, instead of debate the Trinity or evolution, let us just bask in the grace of God and praise His name.


May 9, 2008

Scriptures for May 18, 2008, Holy Trinity: Genesis 1:1-2:4b; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

Psalm 8 O Jehovah, our Lord, How excellent is thy name in all the earth, who hast set thy glory upon the heavens! Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou established strength, because of thine adversaries, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him but little lower than God, and crownest him with glory and honor. Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O Jehovah, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!

I was watching a television show called “Weird Places” a few days ago. The show focused on unusual places around the world, places that are known to be spiritual or high energy centers. Some of these places are amazing. There were references to Sedona, Arizona, Machu Picchu, and Glastonbury, England. It is hard to imagine how the people of those places managed to build their cities under such extreme circumstances. The story about Glastonbury included a brief reference to Stonehenge. Experts today can only guess how some of these places were created by human hands.

Even modern architecture is incredible. We can build towers that reach to the heavens. In Dubai, the Burj Al Arab is a luxury hotel that grabs our imaginations. It looks like the sail an Arabian vessel. It is built on a man-made island off the shore of Dubai and looks like it is floating in the Persian Gulf. I have been awed by the classic architecture of European cathedrals and by the modern steel and glass skyscrapers of American cities. The product of human ingenuity can be breathtaking.

I have also wandered in some of the most beautiful gardens in the world. Gardeners can take a few simple plants and arrange them in a way that is inspirational and magnificent. I can sit for hours in front of an aquarium filled with tropical fish, enjoying the patterns they make as they provide us a vision of what life might be if they lived in the ocean. There is something very special about hearing a well trained choir presenting a cantata that proclaims the story of God.

Yet, no matter how wonderful the things we do in this world, no matter how wonderful the things we build, nothing can even stand close to that which God has done. We can visit the universe, using technology to see planets and stars that are beyond our grasp. We can delve into the depths of the sea and study the life that has adapted to those extreme conditions. Composers create music and painters masterpieces that can take us away in a sense of wonder, peace and joy. But nothing compares to that which God has created.

We can create new flowers by cross-pollinating two others. We can plant a forest. We can artificially inseminate human embryos into a woman’s womb. We can even clone animals. We can do so many things with the creation that God has brought forth with a word. We do these things with the intelligence God has given us. But no matter how unbelievable the things we can accomplish in this world, nothing human hands have created will ever come close to that which God has created.

He is greater than His creation. He is wiser than the wisest man. He is more loving than the most loving mother. He is worthy of our praise and worship. Though we are able to create the most beautiful gardens and built the most awesome structures, we’ll never be much more than a dot on the planet, a brief blip in the expanse of time and space in which we live. Yet, God has made us the crown of His creation. He has made us sons and daughters. He has given us dominion over all that He has done. It is a tremendous responsibility. Through it all, however, let us never forget about God and the fact that His hand is in the midst of everything that we have done, are doing and will do.


May 12, 2008

Scriptures for May 18, 2008, Holy Trinity: Genesis 1:1-2:4b; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

2 Corinthians 13:11-13 Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfected; be comforted; be of the same mind; live in peace: and the God of love and peace shall be with you. Salute one another with a holy kiss. All the saints salute you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. (I have included verse 14 in this passage, because the NRSV is numbered differently than most versions. The text should go through the end of the chapter.)

Three is a good number. Most of our chairs have four legs, but have you ever thought about how much better it would be if they only had three? A chair with four legs must set perfectly flat on the floor or it wobbles. If one of the legs is slightly longer or slightly shorter than the other three, the chair wobbles. If the floor is uneven and one of the legs just sit in a hole or on a bump, the chair wobbles. However, if the chair has only three legs, even if there is some imperfection in the legs or the floor, the chair stands firm. The chair would be nothing without the ‘lesser’ leg because it can’t stand on just two legs.

Our government is made up of three branches: the executive, the legislative and the judicial. No branch is more powerful than the others. All three are necessary to the governance of our nation. They check and balance one another. They hold each other accountable. There may be times when this system does not seem to work, but there is, in the end, an equalizer that restores it as it should be.

In a committee of three, there is usually no leader. The three are equal, all having a voice and a vote. If two are against one another, the third can acts as a peacemaker. If two are overly passionate about something, the third can act as a stabilizer. In a triangle, each side has a relationship with the other two sides, this is not always true with groups with more than three people. While many organizations need more than three to accomplish the work, most organizations require three people in leadership—a president, a secretary and a treasurer. These three keep one another in balance. No one person has to be responsible for everything. No one person can be blamed if something goes wrong. No one person gets the credit when something goes right. Maybe that is why Jesus kept the three disciples (Peter, James and John) close to Him, so that they might balance and support each other.

Our scripture today is quite short, but so full that it could be the focus for several sermons. Paul, who was writing to a congregation in crisis, used these sentences to sum up his letter. The Corinthians were being led by people who were not always doing the work for the sake of Christ and His cross. They were working for their own self-interest. Their faith was shallow and all show. They perceived Paul as an enemy and worked to discredit him in the community. Paul was required to write to defend himself and his ministry to the people whom he loved liked children.

He ended this difficult letter with a number of exhortations. “Be perfected,” he said, calling the people not to perfection but to work out their differences so that they can be the Church that God has created and called them to be. “Be comforted,” a word of encouragement and a call to take heed to the words of the letter which at times may have seemed harsh but were given to the community to help them overcome their problems. “Be of the same mind,” is not a call to be robotic in their agreement about every detail. After all, the Corinthian church was a diverse community, as is the Church today. When we are of the same mind, it means that we have the same focus, and that focus should be Christ. “Be at peace,” does not mean that we should “just all get along.” It means that we face our differences with the reality of life in community and live in Christ together despite our diversity.

The final verse is a Trinitarian benediction, and it is there we find the peace in which we are called to live. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” We receive God’s unmerited favor because of the work of Jesus Christ. This was given to us because of God’s great and unconditional love for His creation. The Holy Spirit is the glue that holds us all together—us with God and with one another. It is in, by and for God that we live in community with others who have been called to faith. When we focus on ourselves, on our ministries, on our abilities, we lost touch with that which God has done. Paul, in this letter, reminds us that it comes from God and we will be at peace as we live with and for God together.


May 13, 2008

Scriptures for May 18, 2008, Holy Trinity: Genesis 1:1-2:4b; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

Matthew 28:16-20 But the eleven disciples went into Galilee, unto the mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

I like to cook and I do pretty well in the kitchen. While I can follow a recipe, I tend to get a little bit creative with food. I used to watch a television chef who never followed a recipe. His style was simple and he often made suggestions to help bachelors make magnificent meals for their dates with little or no work. He could grab a few cans out of the pantry and create the most delicious dishes. He taught me to not be afraid of food, to experiment and to enjoy working in the kitchen.

I do follow recipes, especially when baking. You have to really understand the science of cooking to experiment with cakes and cookies. I’m usually very careful about ensuring each ingredient is properly measured and added to the batter. However, I make mistakes. I remember once when I was trying to make one of my mother’s Christmas cookies I forgot to add the sugar. I tried one when the first cookies came out of the oven and I knew something was wrong. They were terrible. I realized my mistake and I was able to add the sugar to the rest of the batter, but that batch was never very good. Even now so many years later, I check not just once, but three or four times to make sure I haven’t forgotten something.

Even though I’ve been complimented on my cooking, I still worry that everything I make will be less than satisfactory. I’m afraid that I’ve forgotten something or that my combinations are really not as successful as I think. I still put the dishes on the table with the hope that my family or friends will enjoy, but I often doubt that they will be satisfied.

We can be confident and doubtful about many aspects of life. The eleven had lived and worked with Jesus for three years. They’d seen Him crucified and raised. They had undergone an intense forty days when the risen Christ trained them in their mission and ministry. They touched Jesus, heard His voice, and loved Him like a brother. They had seen the miracles happen, eaten the bread that Jesus blessed and tasted the wine of the covenant from His own hand. They confessed faith. They believed. And they doubted.

We wonder how this could be, but it is a very natural response to God. This doubt was probably not so much about doubting God, for they had seen the power and authority by which Jesus had ministered. Despite the training and encouragement they received, they had also made many mistakes. They couldn’t heal all the demons. Peter confessed faith in Jesus and then rebuked Jesus for saying that He had to die. They were often self-centered and selfish. They hid in fear, refused to believe the news of Jesus’ resurrection. They failed over and over again. Though Jesus had confidence in the ones He had chosen, they did not have confidence in themselves. They knew all too well how imperfect they could be. How could they do what Jesus had done? How could they go on without Him?

Jesus answered their doubts. “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” They were being sent into the world to do an awesome thing. They were being sent to change the world. They separated, each disciple—apostle—going the way the Spirit led and they took the Gospel to the four corners of the earth. They doubted because they did not know how they could accomplish this great thing, but there was no need to worry. God was not sending them alone. He was there with each one and as they baptized each new believer in the Trinity, He made them part of the body He had created in Christ.


May 14, 2008

… lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) This is not from our readings for this week, but during my research I discovered a blogger who was confused about which letter to Corinth we were using. Despite the mistake, I think it is a wonderful reference because it shows yet another example of a trinity—the trinity of faith, hope and love. This trinity is our life.

Faith looks upward, hope looks forward and love looks outward. Notice how these forces of life are not solitary or individual, but bring us into relationship and community. Faith connects us to the holy, makes us part of the kingdom of God. Faith might be personal, but it does not separate us. As a matter of fact, faith connects us to our Creator and makes our attachment to the entire world He has created stronger. We see the world through the eyes of faith, through the eyes of God, and we take more seriously the responsibilities of our dominion over it. Faith is dead if it is hidden or held within one’s self.

Hope is our response to the holy. We are made part of the kingdom of God through faith, and then we rest in the hope of the promises we receive as children of God. Hope does not disappoint because hope is the expectation of the fulfillment of God’s promises. God is faithful, so we can stand firm in that which we know to be true. Our hope is not only in some future heaven, but in God’s continuing action in this world. Hope makes us part of the community, willing to share the grace that brought us the hope in which we live. Hope is pointless if it is hidden or held within one’s self.

God is love. We love because God first loved us. Love can in no way be personal or private. Love requires relationship. Though we can ‘love ourselves’ it is a worthless love. In the King James Version of the Bible, the word in the passage is translated “charity.” Love is shared. Love is part of a community. They say God is love, but God can’t be love if God is a singular entity separate from everything else. The Trinity is God in relationship: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each person of the Godhead is bound together as One, held by love and radiating love into the created world. We live in that love, but it is not simply about our relationship with God, but it is about how we live out that relationship with God in the creation.

It is easy to talk about life in Christ as faith, hope and love. Yet, there is one thing that can stand in our way—doubt. Doubt disrupts faith because it causes us to question the relationship we have with God and the relationship we have with others. Doubt halts hope because it makes us wonder if God is really faithful and if He will ever fulfill His promises. Doubt breaks love because it makes us look at others with distrust and uncertainty. We can’t love if we doubt the love of others. And yet, doubt is a very real part of our experience.

So, we live in this tension between doubt and the trinity of our life in Christ. In those final moments with the disciples, Jesus knew they would have difficulty being all that He had called them to be. They would face persecution and even death. They would be ignored, rejected and despised. But He wasn’t leaving them to do it all alone. He would be with them even to the end of the world. This is true even when we fail. It is true even when we doubt. It is true even though we do not fully understand God. No matter what we are or what we do, God is. Peace is found in that reality even when our flesh finds it impossible to believe.


May 15, 2008

Scriptures for May 25, 2008: Isaiah 49:8-16; Psalm 31; 2 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

Isaiah 49:8-16 Thus saith Jehovah, In an acceptable time have I answered thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee; and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to raise up the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages: saying to them that are bound, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and on all bare heights shall be their pasture. They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that hath mercy on them will lead them, even by springs of water will he guide them. And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted. Lo, these shall come from far; and, lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim. Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for Jehovah hath comforted his people, and will have compassion upon his afflicted. But Zion said, Jehovah hath forsaken me, and the Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, these may forget, yet will not I forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.

Except for the occasional festival Sundays during summer, the Church calendar goes green with “ordinary time” readings until the end of October. The first half of the Church year, which begins the first Sunday of November, goes through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week and Easter. During those months, we hear the story of God and His relationship with His people. We hear about Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection. We hear about the people who were part of His life and His ministry. We hear about the prophecies pointing to Jesus and the fulfillment of those prophecies.

Our focus changes during the second half of the year. We don’t ignore the story of God, but we look at it from a different point of view. We look at it through the eyes of the Church. We have been given the Holy Spirit. Now what are we going to do? Where is this faith which God has given going to take us? It is called Ordinary Time because we aren’t standing on the mountain anymore. During the season of Pentecost, we take our gifts into the world sharing the good things that God has done.

It is tough living in the trenches. The work we are called to do in Christ’s name is often dirty and disturbing because it takes so far outside our comfort zone. Healing the sick, casting out demons, setting the prisoners free: these things are frightening and painful. Feeding the poor is tiring work because there seems to be so many who need our help. It is not enough to throw some money at the problems of our world. We are called to make a very real, very personal difference in the lives of those who are suffering. They need more than bread and water. They need Christ. They need to know God’s promises so that they too might rest in the reality of God’s mercy and grace.

We live far after the days to which Isaiah is referring, and yet these words are as appropriate for us as they were for the exiles. The story we heard for the first six months of the Church year brought us into a relationship with God for a purpose—so that we might shine His light into the world so that He will be known by all. It isn’t always easy. There are even times when we think God has forgotten us. When we are facing rejection, oppression and persecution, it is natural to think that we have been forsaken.

God answers our fears, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” We have all written something on our hands, a phone number or message that we want to remember. That writing comes off easily with a little bit of soap and water. I know several people who had been imprisoned in German concentration camps. They have marks on their arms, identifying numbers. Though it is possible to have them remove erased with lasers or surgery, many of the victims want to keep the tattoos as a reminder to themselves and the world of what happens when we ignore injustice in the world. It is a badge of courage, a symbol of perseverance.

God does not write our name on His hand with pen that can be washed off. We are engraved on the palms of His hands. We are part of Him, He does not forget. He is faithful to all His promises. No matter what we might do, not matter how lost we seem to get while trying to live out our faith in this world, God remembers. We hear the same story over and over again, year after year, so that His promises will be written on our hearts. When we are facing the difficulty of life in the trenches, God’s voice reminds us that we are not forgotten. Everything He has done was meant to bring us to this moment and every moment that follows. Let us rejoice so that the world might also know this God who is so good to His people.


May 16, 2008

Scriptures for May 25, 2008: Isaiah 49:8-16; Psalm 131; 2 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

Psalm 131 Jehovah, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty; neither do I exercise myself in great matters, Or in things too wonderful for me. Surely I have stilled and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child with his mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in Jehovah from this time forth and for evermore.

We’ve reached the end of another school year. In the next few weeks students will be taking their final exams and finishing all their work. This is an exciting time for the students and a hectic time for the teachers. I’m sure the students are getting anxious for their summer vacation—these last few weeks are always the hardest for teachers. They students are more interested in the sunny skies and fresh grass outside the window than in the lessons the instructor is trying to teach. They want to play and this makes learning almost impossible.

For some students, including my daughter Victoria, the next few weeks are the end of a phase of their lives. She will be graduating early in June and then it is time for her to pursue something new. She is planning to attend college and has been preparing for the changes. These past few weeks have been very busy with banquets and award ceremonies. Just last night Victoria received another scholarship at a special program. It has been wonderful to see her honored and recognized in so many ways. Victoria has a great deal of which to be proud. She has worked very hard and has earned everything she has achieved.

It would be easy for her to get a very big head with all the honors she has received. Between the State Theatre Championship, her high academic honors, the scholarships and the newspaper recognition, she could get comfortable on the pedestal on which she has been placed. We teach our children to be self-confident and bold. We want them to have a healthy self-esteem. That’s why we recognize their success. But, there is a very fine line between self-esteem and self-importance. It is not nearly as far to jump from meekness to arrogance as we might expect. The top students can take the pomp and circumstance too serious and become pompous or conceited.

David had everything going for him. He was king of Israel. He had great wealth and good fortune. He was well respected among the nations and loved by his people. He had enemies, but he had God’s favor. He had every reason to believe that he was more important than others. Yet, David always lived in humble submission to God. He sought God’s help in his troubles and looked to God for provision. He thanked God for the blessings in his life and he turned to God in repentance for his failures. He was the king of a nation but also a very humble man.

Today’s psalm is attributed to this man, but it is likely that the psalm was used by the people traveling to Jerusalem on pilgrimage. It helped the people put their hearts and their minds into the right place when approaching God’s throne. He loves us and it is easy to take that love and cross a line, thinking ourselves more blessed because of our relationship with Him. However, we are reminded that we are nothing but a smudge on the masterpiece that is God’s creation. No matter how good, how smart or how blessed we are, it is good and right for us to be humble in our confidence and modest in our position. As we begin our summer of Pentecost, learning what it means to be a Christian in this world, let us sing together the words of this psalm and approach the Lord with meekness and peace.


May 19, 2008

Scriptures for May 25, 2008: Isaiah 49:8-16; Psalm 131; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

1 Corinthians 4:1-5 Let a man so account of us, as of ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Here, moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Wherefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall each man have his praise from God.

During the One Act Play competition season, the students took their show to a couple of workshops to aid in the preparation for the contests. At these workshops, an experienced judge watched the show and then gave the group a critique of their work. He or she made suggestions to help them do the best job possible. Then after each competition, the judge that chose the winning plays also gave them critiques. This process helped the students get better at doing the play each step along the way.

Now, the directors and the students did not always agree with the opinions of the critics, so they did not always make the changes recommended. On at least one point, different judges had completely opposite opinions about something they were doing onstage. It was very important for the directors and the students to make sound decisions about which opinions to accept and which to set aside. Through it all, they had to hear the critiques with the understanding that the judge or critic was really trying to help them do their best. It is easy to take criticism personally, especially if you are the person who is receiving the criticism. However, those who are open to constructive ideas can become better at what they do.

Sometimes criticism is not so constructive. Destructive criticism purposely harms someone. Some critics do not provide opinions and critiques, but instead pass judgment, willfully or unknowingly harming the person they claim to want to help. The intent of the critic is necessary here to know what purpose they have in giving such harmful opinion. They are often envious, cruel or simply unknowledgeable in the field they are trying to judge.

Paul writes, “Men should recognize that we are servants of Christ.” How many times have you heard, or even said, that another person couldn’t possibly be a Christian? Christians are seen not by the words we say but by the things we do. Unfortunately, we don’t always do what is right. We don’t always do what is good. There is a joke about a woman who was crazily speeding along a road that got stopped by a policeman. The cop came to the window with gun in hand and demanded the woman get out of the car. After he checked her papers and saw that she was indeed the owner of the vehicle, he apologized for the harsh way she was treated. “I saw the Christian bumper stickers on the car and the erratic driving and assumed that the car had been stolen.”

We don’t know the circumstances that might lead someone, a Christian, to do what is not right. We should always be aware of our actions and the witness we are giving to the world, but we are human, imperfect. We fail. Unfortunately, we are quick to see another’s failure and assume they couldn’t possibly be a Christian because of it. We judge and our criticism is often destructive. We are judged and the criticisms heard are often destructive.

Paul reminds us that we are stewards of the mysteries of God and even though God’s stewards are expected to be trustworthy, the opinions of the world are not always true. The criticism we hear is often based on one failure, without the judge seeing the hundreds of good works a person does. We should not be concerned about the judgment of other human beings because we rest in the promises of God. He sees all and knows our heart. He forgives us for our failures and helps us to grow out of them. He transforms us daily by His Spirit, leading us into the paths of righteousness.

Isn’t it interesting that the last verse in this passage tells us that when Christ comes, each man shall have his praise from God. Humans are quick to judge, but God will give commendation in that day because He knows that which has been hidden. So, we are called not to pass judgment until the right time, and in that time God will reveal the purposes of the heart.


May 20, 2008

Scriptures for May 25, 2008: Isaiah 49:8-16; Psalm 131; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

Matthew 6:24-34 No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value then they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life? And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

As I research for A WORD FOR TODAY, I often go back to the archives and see what I have written about the text in the past. As I did so today, I discovered that this scripture is one that I have used this particular text at least seven times in the past ten years. Obviously, worry is a subject about which I have a great deal of experience. I’m not sure much has changed with all those words of wisdom. I still worry.

As a matter of fact, the timing of this text is appropriate. As Victoria prepares to graduate from High School and go off to college, I have to find a way to pay for it all. In the next few months we’ll have to come up with the funds to pay for school, books, a computer and other things for school. She has done well in winning scholarships, but the costs are still greater than our available funds. We will have to take out loans to pay for her school. It is times like this that I can’t help but worry. Can we do it? Can we manage?

I know we’ll be fine. I can say the words with confidence. I don’t think that God is going to hand us a check that will cover our added expenses, but I can trust that He’ll see us through. There is no reason to worry, especially since worrying will not solve our problems. We must simply live as good stewards of the gifts we have been given and everything will be well. It is a common problem all parents of college-bound students deal with, and there are plenty of resources available. A young man speaking at a banquet recently said, “Your child will have debt when they leave school. It is a fact of life. Don’t worry.”

There is a difference between preparation and worry. Worry is useless because it does nothing. There are those who might say (and this has been me, at times) that worry is what gives us the push needed to do what needs to be done. That is not really true. Worry is a distraction. It is not a positive attitude, but one of distress and aggravation. Worry does not add a day to our lives or solve our problems. As a matter of fact, when I worry, I’m less able to cope with the things that need to be done.

When we worry, our focus is entirely on our problem instead of looking toward the possible solutions. Jesus says that no man can serve two masters. I doubt that those who worry about money would ever say that they hate God, but hate in the biblical sense does not necessarily mean dislike. When we hate, we separate ourselves, we turn our back on the one we claim to love. So, when we worry, we turn our back on God. Does trusting in Him mean that we’ll win the lottery and have no financial problems? No, but it does mean that we are not focusing on our distress. Solutions are easier to see when we do not get buried by the problem. In our times of trouble, we need not worry. Instead, let us look to God and everything else will work out just fine.


May 21, 2008

Scriptures for May 25, 2008: Isaiah 49:8-16; Psalm 131; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

Here, moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

How I wish this was possible, that a person could be found faithful. No matter how good, right and true we might be, we fail one another. Now, our failures might not seem like failure to someone. Take, for example, a child cleaning up his or her room. Now, according the standards of one person, the room might appear neat and tidy, but according to another’s standards, it is still messy. The child, who can find all his or her toys and can safely climb into bed, might think the room is satisfactory. But mom likes everything in its place and every corner dusted. The child is proud of the accomplishment, but Mom is disappointed. To Mom, the child has not been faithful.

It would be best for the mother to approach this situation in a positive way, praising the child for the accomplishment while encouraging the child to do more. But, mother’s fail, too, and it is likely that she will get angry. I get frustrated with my own kids when they don’t get the work done that I’ve asked them to do. I try to be encouraging, but it is sometimes hard. They usually answer my frustration with, “I’m still working on it, Mom.” They have been in the process of cleaning their rooms since the last time we moved. Every so often we go through this process of my threats and their promises, which always end up in a still messy room. At some point, I usually get down and dirty with them, helping them make decisions about everything they have accumulated. I suppose that’s why I’m so frustrated when a week later the room is a complete shambles, again.

I was the same way, and though my house is still not spotless, I’ve gotten much better about cleaning up after myself. I don’t see the light right now because their rooms are disaster areas, but I should have hope that one day they will have learned to pick up after themselves and that their own homes will be tidy and neat.

We are like little kids, beloved of our Father in heaven. He calls us to a life of joy and peace, a life of being good stewards of all He has done and has given. He calls us to trust in Him and to respond to His grace with graciousness to others. Unfortunately, we often fail. Take worry, for instance. Of course we know that God is faithful and that He will provide. That does not stop us from being concerned when we are facing financial difficulties. We know God forgives, but that does not stop us from feeling guilt about the things we do wrong. We know that God will ensure the well-being of those He loves, but that does not stop us from taking the situations we face into our own hands. We aren’t always faithful.

But even as we are unfaithful, God affirms His promises. He is like that mother who gets right down into the mess and helps the child clean, knowing full well that in days the room will be messy again. Over and over again He proves His love by providing for us despite our failures. Over and over again we relearn the lessons of faith as God hopes we will prove more faithful each day. In the meanwhile, we are reminded of our own unfaithfulness so that we will not judge others by standards that are higher than our ability to judge. Only God knows the end. Only God knows the heart. And in the end, God will be pleased because He loves His children.


May 22, 2008

Scriptures for June 1, 2009: Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28; Psalm 31:1-5, 19-24; Romans 1:16-17, 3:22b-28 [29-31]

Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28 Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul; and ye shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them your children, talking of them, when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates; that your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which Jehovah sware unto your fathers to give them, as the days of the heavens above the earth… Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if ye shall hearken unto the commandments of Jehovah your God, which I command you this day; and the curse, if ye shall not hearken unto the commandments of Jehovah your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which ye have not known.

A friend gave me a prayer box a few years ago for Christmas. A prayer box is a tiny silver box on a chain. The box opens and closes and is just big enough to hold a tiny piece of paper. The box is designed to hold a person’s prayers close to the heart and is a visible reminder to lift our needs to the God who provides. Now, most of us probably do not need a visible reminder to help us pray. Our needs are so often at the front of our minds.

The prayer box comes from a long history of similar objects. Phylacteries have been part of the human religious experience since the beginning of time. Phylacteries are vessels that either hold or represent the holding of spiritual aspects of life. Ancient people had amulets that they wore around their necks. Their amulets were thought to hold their souls. Early Christians placed relics in phylacteries, receptacles that were given a place of honor and those sights were the destination of many pilgrims. Some phylacteries were used as charms or safeguards against danger.

We don’t need these objects to think about God or to know about the spiritual life. However, objects give us a visible reminder of that which is not seen. They help us keep focused; our minds tend to wander and we are easily distracted from our task at hand. I may not regularly remove the prayer from the prayer box around my neck, but its presence near my heart often brings remembrance of my God to my mind.

For the Jews, phylacteries were boxes that were literally strapped to the hand and the head. Scriptures about God’s goodness were written on scrolls and carefully placed in these leather boxes. The adherent followed a lengthy and specific ritual as the boxes were strapped first to the arm and then to the head. Many Jews still do this when they pray. As I read the ritual, I was amazed at how much they are required to do—specific prayers are said and scripture is recited as the straps are wrapped. It seems always ridiculous how much is required just to pray, and yet there is a very real purpose to the ritual. It helps the adherent focus on God. The words that are written on the heart are spoken out loud. The scriptures that are part of a deeply held faith are visible and tangible.

In this passage from Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people that they shall lay up God’s word in their hearts and in their souls. Then he goes on to tell them to write them on their arms and their heads, on their doorposts and gates. While we can memorize and know God’s word in our heart, our minds and our hearts are easily distracted by the cares of our world. We may not strap phylacteries to our arms or our heads, but we can use similar reminders to keep God in the forefront of our life. Have you ever written bible verses on post-it notes and placed them around your house? Do you keep your bible handy so that you might read it when you have a moment? Do you have a cross around your neck to keep God’s grace constantly in remembrance as you go through your day? These tools can help us to live out our faith in a world full of temptation and distraction.


May 23, 2008

Scriptures for June 1, 2009: Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28; Psalm 31:1-5, 19-24; Romans 1:16-17, 3:22b-28 [29-31]

Psalm 31:1-5, 19-24 In thee, O Jehovah, do I take refuge; Let me never be put to shame: Deliver me in thy righteousness. Bow down thine ear unto me; deliver me speedily: be thou to me a strong rock, a house of defense to save me. For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name's sake lead me and guide me. Pluck me out of the net that they have laid privily for me; for thou art my stronghold. Into thy hand I commend my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Jehovah, thou God of truth... Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee, which thou hast wrought for them that take refuge in thee, before the sons of men! In the covert of thy presence wilt thou hide them from the plottings of man: thou wilt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues. Blessed be Jehovah; for he hath showed me his marvelous lovingkindness in a strong city. As for me, I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee. Oh love Jehovah, all ye his saints: Jehovah preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth him that dealeth proudly. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all ye that hope in Jehovah.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Everyone has a price. You get what you pay for. You’ll only get as much out of something as you put into it. These overused and abused phrases are a fact of life in the society in which we live. We are certain that everyone has hidden motive behind everything they do. We expect demands from those who seemingly ‘give’ something to us. We certainly find this true in our social circles, where a dinner invitation almost certainly demands reciprocation and a Christmas present requires something in return. We search for the price of getting what we want, willingly paying more than something is worth so that we retain control over the situation. Every matter between people is a ‘transaction’ of some sort where something is exchanged for something else.

I think that is why Christian faith is so hard for many to truly understand. We can’t grasp the idea that God gives freely without demand. I was reading an article from the Center for Christian Ethics by Stephen Harmon about the rock group U2. He writes, “Arguably the most successful rock band in the world, U2 not only cries out against injustice, but also dares to imagine an alternative in light of the Christian vision. The band searchingly examines the distortions of our world and proclaims with Scripture ‘the place that has to be believed to be seen’ and ‘where the streets have no name.’ Will we hear them?” In this article, Mr. Harmon quotes Bono about grace.

“You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one…. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that…. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff…. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity…. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled…. It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of Heaven.” (From, Michka Assayas, Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas)

The psalms are often difficult for us to read because they are filled with a dichotomy of both suffering and hope. How can there be hope in suffering? Or how can there be suffering in hope? Yet, with God we are able to live in the midst of our difficulties while still trusting in the promises of God because God can overcome all our frailty and failings. We can’t live a life good enough to deserve to be saved from the consequences of our sin, yet God has done the impossible and improbable—saved us from ourselves and our enemies. He is our refuge, our strong tower, our help in difficult times. He hears our cries and is faithful to His promises.


May 27, 2008

Scriptures for June 1, 2009: Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28; Psalm 31:1-5, 19-24; Romans 1:16-17, 3:22b-28 [29-31]; Matthew 7:21-29

Romans 1:16-17, 3:21-31 For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is revealed a righteousness of God from faith unto faith: as it is written, But the righteous shall live by faith… But now apart from the law a righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God; for the showing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season: that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus. Where then is the glorying? It is excluded. By what manner of law? of works? Nay: but by a law of faith. We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yea, of Gentiles also: if so be that God is one, and he shall justify the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make the law of none effect through faith? God forbid: nay, we establish the law. (I included verses 21-22a.)

There are two topics on the “do not” list of suggestions for party conversation: religion and politics. I suspect there is a third subject that should be ignored: economics. The reason these topics should be off-limits is that there are bound to passionate people of opposing opinions present. It takes very little for a discussion to get out of hand. Lines are drawn and sides are taken. Comments are taken personally and feelings are hurt. It is easy for misunderstandings to lead to arguments and broken relationships. It is easy to make judgments about people based on their opinions, especially if they disagree with us. It is so easy to insist that someone ‘on the other side’ is wrong and that they are failing to be right.

When we are wrong, we are incorrect. It is possible that our misdirection or inaccuracy is based on misinformation. This can be overcome with the right information. Failure to be right is a much deeper and more personal judgment. We fail not just because we have been given false information, but because we refuse to accept or believe the right information. Failure to be right means that we have rejected what is true. There is a fine line between these two and that fine line is crossed when we turn our discussions from our differences into judgments against our opposition.

To the Christian Jews, the Gentile Christians were not just wrong; they were failing to be right. More specifically, they were failing to be righteous. They refused to become Jewish so that they could be in a right relationship with God. The Gentiles refused to follow the Jewish laws because they were meaningless. They seemed to have nothing to do with their faith in Christ. Even though Jesus was a Jew, the stories they heard showed that He, at times, did not live up the expectations that were being placed on the Gentile Christians. The Romans saw Christ through a much different lens and they did not understand why they were being forced into a life that was not of their heritage.

I suppose that is what happens when we begin talking about those different topics at parties. We can not see the other point of view for one reason or another. That other point of view does not make sense to us, so we see the opposition as wrong, or failing to be right. They see us the same way. This judgment leads us to the assumption that we are right and that we are, somehow, in a better relationship with one another and the world, because of it. After all, righteousness means being in a right relationship with God and when we are in a right relationship with God, He helps us to be in right relationships with others and the whole of creation. Unfortunately, this often leads to the judgment that the people of opposing viewpoints are unfaithful and perhaps even evil.

The Jewish Christians thought they were righteous because they followed the Law, but Paul said that none are righteous. All are sinners in need of a Savior. It is interesting that he approaches this idea from three points of view, much more noticeable in the Greek than in our English translations. He talks about salvation, which is a political term. He talks about redemption, which is an economic term. And he talks about atonement, which is a religious term. And so, we are faced with the reality that our right relationship with God, and one another, is not dependent on our opinions about religion, economics and religion, but on God’s saving, redeeming and atoning grace. This does not mean that we should not try to become better, to think more clearly and to have a right understanding of politics, economics and religion. It means that we live by the faith given to us by God, not by our knowledge and opinions of this world.


May 28, 2008

Scriptures for June 1, 2009: Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28; Psalm 31:1-5, 19-24; Romans 1:16-17, 3:22b-28 [29-31]; Matthew 7:21-29

Matthew 7:21-29 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Every one therefore that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, who built his house upon the rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and if fell not: for it was founded upon the rock. And every one that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and smote upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall thereof. And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these words, the multitudes were astonished at his teaching: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

It amazes me to see how much paintings cost when I go into a gallery, but I understand the need for such incredible fees. I have never earned a profit from my hobbies; although there are times I wish I could make it my living. An artist might sell just one painting out of a dozen, so they have to demand enough to cover their costs and living expenses. That is why many artists were supported by patrons. A patron is a person of some means who sees value in the work of an artist. It is like investing in a person, giving them the means to live until they can support themselves. The patron then has some say about the life, and perhaps even the work, of the person whom they are supporting.

Patronage is not only found in the arts; scholarships are a type of patronage. Someone, or some group, makes a decision to support the education of someone with potential. There are scholarships available for just about every type of person and interest. I purchased a book that listed thousands of types of scholarships. There was everything from academic scholarships to money for people belonging to a specific heritage. There was money for artists, athletes, musicians and “B” students. Some of the scholarships are very specific, asking for age, gender, hometown, hobbies, interests and goals.

Victoria has won a number of scholarships, some which are one time gifts and others that are good for her entire college career. These students receiving the renewable money have certain expectations. For one, Victoria has to take a certain class each semester. For others, she must keep her grade point average higher than average. The demands on her time and resources are greater than if she were attending school without the scholarships.

Today’s passage is a difficult one for many people because it leaves us with a question about who is really saved. I have come across Christians who will quickly turn to this scripture if they come against another Christian who disagrees with their understanding of the faith. Quoting this passage puts a halt to discussion by claiming casting doubt about someone’s relationship with Christ and their faith, based on little information. Those who use it take the job of judging a person’s heart for themselves, a job that only God can do.

The word “Lord” here is like the word patron, the Lord is one who supports and values the work of those who believe. He is our Patron. As those who benefit from His grace, there are expectations: to live as wise men living according to the words we have heard from Jesus. Those who do so are like someone who builds a life on solid ground. While it is possible to know when a man has built his home on sand, it is not so easy for us to see the life that is not build firmly on God’s word. We can’t read a person’s heart. The words are meant for us all, and it is good for us to remember that we all fail to live up to God’s standard daily. We sin against God and one another in so many ways. It is not good for us to cast doubt on another’s faith, but it is well and good for us to question ourselves that we might grow in the faith which God has given, to prove daily that God was right to have the confidence to be our Patron.


May 29, 2008

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

Hosea 5:15-6:6 I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me earnestly… Come, and let us return unto Jehovah; for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: on the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live before him. And let us know, let us follow on to know Jehovah: his going forth is sure as the morning; and he will come unto us as the rain, as the latter rain that watereth the earth. O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the dew that goeth early away. Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth. For I desire goodness, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings.

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

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

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

God is faithful and longsuffering. He is steadfast and merciful. The same could not be said about Israel. God’s chosen nation often ran after the gods of their neighbors, honoring God only when it suited them. They followed the rituals with their bodies, but not with their hearts. Their love was fleeting and it was an image which neither revealed their true selves nor lived up to the expectations of God. It is written in this passage that the love of Israel was like the morning fog that disappears as soon as the sun is shining. So it was with God’s people—as soon as they were delivered from difficulty and became prosperous, they forgot the God whose grace brought them out of trouble and into blessing.

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


May 30, 2008

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

Psalm 50:7-15 Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify unto thee: I am God, even thy God. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices; And thy burnt-offerings are continually before me. I will take no bullock out of thy house, Nor he-goats out of thy folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, And the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains; And the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee; For the world is mine, and the fulness thereof. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, Or drink the blood of goats? Offer unto God the sacrifice of thanksgiving; And pay thy vows unto the Most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.

Sir Samuel Romilly was an English law reformer and writer who lived during the late 18th, early 19th century. He spent some time in France, studying the French Revolution. Once, during his stay, he attended mass with Marie Antoinette and France’s King Louis XVI. His impressions of that worship were not good. When the royal family entered the sanctuary, everyone turned their attention to the royal couple and focused their energy on getting a peak of the spectacle. The women attendants were dressed in fancy gowns and were busy catching the eye of the king who acted as though he were at a party rather than in a church for worship. The people paid no attention to the priest even at the most sacred moments of the mass. Sir Romilly saw people worshipping a man rather than God that day. He saw people more interested in the glitz and glamour of the rich and famous than the sacredness of the worship.

I had a different, but similar experience once when I was in England. We went to Westminster Abbey in London as tourists, a beautiful church filled with the tombs of the rich and the famous from England from throughout the ages. While we were following the tour through the cathedral we heard an announcement that there would be a communion service. We turned to one of the vicars on duty and asked about the service. He helped us jump barriers and push through the crowds so that we could reach the worship area in time. It was an amazing moment for me. As I knelt at the altar, receiving the body and blood of Christ, I realized that I was kneeling where many of those people who were buried in that very church had also knelt for communion. It was humbling to think that kings and queens, politicians, artists and musicians who are well known to us today, had also knelt at that altar. It was also a blessing to know that God does not see our position or our fame, but rather our hearts when we worship. At that altar, we are equals, I as beloved as the queens who were buried just a few feet away.

What was so disappointing, however, is how few people joined us for the service. Only a few dozen people had gathered at the altar, while thousands continued to tour the church and look at the tombs. I was heartbroken for those who were more interested in peaking at the dead than in worshipping the living God.

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

The people of Israel were giving burnt offerings and sacrifices to God, but they were not giving Him their hearts. What would our services look like from God’s point of view? What sort of offerings are we giving to Him? Do we grumble when we write our weekly check? Do we moan as we roll out of bed on a Sunday morning? Are we like the people at the service with Marie Antoinette, checking out the clothes of our fellow worshippers rather than listening to God’s Word? Are we more interested in the dead than in the Living God? Is our worship silent in heaven because we are thinking about the cares of this world? Just like the Jews in days of old, it is almost as if we think that God needs our bodies there at worship, but we use that time to accomplish other things.

God desires lives of praise, not the things we think we can give Him. He owns the whole world, the creation and all those who live in it. We cannot give Him anything for nothing is ours to give. We can only sing songs of praise and thanksgiving and look to Him above all else in this world. He is the Lord God Almighty, Creator, Redeemer and Comforter. True worship will focus on Him, keeping Him at the center of Church, worshipping Him and praising Him for all that He has done.