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
























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


May 1, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, May 10, 2009: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:25-31; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

Psalm 22:25-31 Of thee cometh my praise in the great assembly: I will pay my vows before them that fear him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied; They shall praise Jehovah that seek after him: Let your heart live for ever. All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto Jehovah; And all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is Jehovah's; And he is the ruler over the nations. All the fat ones of the earth shall eat and worship: All they that go down to the dust shall bow before him, Even he that cannot keep his soul alive. A seed shall serve him; It shall be told of the Lord unto the next generation. They shall come and shall declare his righteousness Unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done it.

It is a small world. I’m sure we have all had experiences which prove that point: like running into a friend far away from home or discovering that someone right under our nose is a long lost relative. I suppose those examples are a little far-fetched, but I’ve heard so many stories about people who have run into people with common connections in odd places.

For example: I went to a retreat this past weekend with a group of women from another church. They were expecting a small turn-out, so they invited the women from our church to go along. Now, this other church is only an hour away, so it would not be totally out of the realm of possibility for there to be connections. On the first night of the retreat, I saw one woman who looked very familiar. During the passing of the peace, I wondered aloud if we’d ever met and she said that she thought I looked familiar, too. We mentioned a few places where we might be connected. She has family that attends a church near ours. But I didn’t know anyone there. We thought of some other possibilities, but none were right. Finally I mentioned that my daughter attends Texas Lutheran University. “Of course,” she said, “I’m a very active alumnus at TLU.”

The coincidence got even more incredible. She reminded me later that she helped us move Victoria into her dorm room last fall. As it turns out, Victoria’s roommate is a member at the church hosting the retreat! Emily’s grandmother was there as well as other ladies who’d watched Emily grow up. I became known as Emily’s roommate’s mother for the rest of the weekend. Some of the ladies had met Victoria from attending TLU events. It was strange and wonderful to be known even though they did not really know me before the retreat.

Those who have met me face to face are going to find my next statement odd, because it seems untrue. But I assure you it is true. I’m a very shy person. I have not allowed my shyness to rule my actions, which is why it appears I’m much more outgoing. It takes a great deal of work, however, for me to act boldly and confidently in front of other people. This past weekend I took several things along that I could do quietly on my own, just in case I was not comfortable in the group. However, the ladies made me feel so welcome that I did not need to hide. The connections we made during our free time also made me feel like I was a part of their family, so I could be myself and share my gifts without fear.

Modern technology has made the world a very small place. We turn on the evening news and we can see events from all over the world as they unfold before us. War, natural disasters, treaties or royal alliances are presented before us and we feel like we are right there while it happens. Yet, all those things are still very distant from our experiences here in America. It is hard for us to believe that while we live in relative peace and safety, there are people who are being bombed every day by leaders who are greedy for power and wealth. With our tables full of delicious food it is difficult to believe that there are thousands who are dying daily from hunger. Nearly every family in our country has at least one Bible in their possession, even though many of them are not read. Yet in many countries people are dying to share even a page or two of the Holy Scriptures with others. It is easy for us to ignore those of other places, but God’s world extends far beyond our own backyard.

We are connected to people outside our own little corner of the world, though sometimes our connections are not so easy to recognize. We may know the same people or have the same interests. But even if we can’t identify our connections, God calls us to join together in worship and praise for all He has done. We are bound together, not only with our neighbors in the house next door or sitting on the pew in our church, but also with those who worship God in other cities, states and countries. Today’s psalm almost sounds like it was a prayer of thanksgiving at a meal, particularly when the psalmist says, “The meek shall eat and be satisfied.” We can look at this psalm from a whole new perspective: through faith in Christ. The great feast that will be celebrated will include all the nations. Those whom we knew and those whom we did not know from every generation will join together at that feast to praise God for eternity. Our connection will be Him, as it is today as we live in this world. Today, however, we only get a glimmer of the joy we’ll know when we ‘run into’ someone in this big, but getting smaller, world in which we live.


May 4, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, May 10, 2009: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:25-31; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

1 John 4:7-21 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. Herein was the love of God manifested in us, that God hath sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man hath beheld God at any time: if we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love is perfected in us: hereby we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father hath sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in God. And we know and have believed the love which God hath in us. God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him. Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is, even so are we in this world. There is no fear in love: but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen. And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.

I can’t sing. Oh, I make a joyful noise all the time, but to everyone else’s ears it is most certainly little more than noise. I don’t know. I have plenty of other gifts. I can express myself with paint and in words. I can teach people about Jesus in a way that helps them understand the grace and mercy of God. I’m a fairly decent and creative cook. I’ve raised two pretty incredible kids. My house isn’t “Better Homes and Gardens” quality, but it is comfortable and welcoming. I consider myself very blessed, but you don’t want me to sing those praises.

It is a family trait. My parents and siblings could not sing either. I’ve often wondered if you checked our DNA whether you’d find some gene that affects the ability to sing. I don’t know, perhaps if I took singing lessons I might be able to overcome this. I do have a good sense of rhythm and I can poke a tune out on the piano. I know when a note is out of tune or when a wrong note is struck. But I can’t make it go from mouth to someone else’s ears in a pleasing way. I wonder about the genetics thing, too, when I look at families like the Osmonds or the Jacksons. Now, those children were all raised in a musical atmosphere, but they are all very talented, too. Could I have developed singing ability if I’d grown up in those families? I don’t know.

Bruce does have a decent singing voice. He sounds incredible when doing classical music or ancient chants. I remember once when we were living in England, Bruce was part of a men’s group that did a Gregorian chant while standing in the catwalk of a thousand year old parish church. The acoustics were incredible and those of us listening were transported to a different time and place. It would be a shame if Bruce did not use his gift, which is why he’s active with the church choir. He’s been involved with some other special singing groups through the years, and the music they have done has been inspiring.

“We love because God first loved us,” are the words to a favorite children’s song. Without God we can not love because God is love. This is what John is trying to tell us in today’s scripture lesson. Love is a gift from God. Without Him it would be impossible for us to love. Though I know many people who do not believe in God do love people, and they can do this according to the most common definition of love from Merriam-Webster dictionary: strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties; attraction based on sexual desire; affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests. Sure, all human beings are capable of this kind of love.

We are also capable of apathy. Hate is not, as we might expect, the opposite of love. Apathy is the opposite of love. Not caring whether someone lives or dies, is happy or sad, is sick or hungry or unclothed is the opposite of love. This is true when we look at another definition of love: unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: as the fatherly concern of God for humankind or brotherly concern for others. This is the kind of love that we can’t give without love of our Father on which to build. But it is also this type of love that we often forget to share.

John writes, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen.” Here we see the use of the word “hate” as the opposite of love, although this has a much different meaning in the ancient languages. To hate is to separate oneself from another. It means to ignore, reject, turn our back on. When we hate someone, we purposely do not meet their needs. Love is active. It is sacrificing oneself for the sake of another. Hate is sacrificing another for our own sake.

If we think so highly of ourselves that we can ignore or reject the cries of our brothers and sisters, it is impossible for us to love God. It is in and through the needs of others that God manifests Himself to us in this world. It is in the thirsty that we are given the opportunity to love God by offering them a drink of water. It is in the hungry that we are given the opportunity to love God by sharing with them our lunch. It is in the sick, imprisoned, unclothed and homeless that God appears to us and we love when we love them with our resources and our actions. If we ignore those needs, we hate those who are needy and therefore cannot possibly love God. The love God gives to us is not meant to be held between God and each individual. It is a gift given to be shared with all. We love because God first loved us, and because God first loved us we are called to love others. It is a trait we have been given by the God who has saved us from ourselves.


May 5, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, May 10, 2009: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:25-31; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

John 15:1-8 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh it away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he cleanseth it, that it may bear more fruit. Already ye are clean because of the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; so neither can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for apart from me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; and so shall ye be my disciples.

In the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” the main character Holly Golightly is a free spirit woman who leads a most unusual lifestyle. She has a small two room apartment, with a few pieces of furniture and unpacked boxes. Her refrigerator is basically empty except for a bottle of champagne, and her phone often ends up in a suitcase so that it will not ring so loudly when she’s trying to sleep. She has a cat that she has named Cat, because he doesn’t belong to her nor her to him. They just live together. She doesn’t want to own anything because she doesn’t want to be owned. She spends most of her time searching the world for the perfect – rich – man. When she finds him, she believes she’ll find herself and she will finally settle down.

Her apartment is a place where she sleeps, bathes and occasionally has company, but she really doesn’t spend much time there. It isn’t a home, it is a place to slow down briefly from her busy and exciting life. When you watch Holly Golightly interact with the other characters in the movie, you have to feel sorry for her because of the life she’s chosen for herself. She is a scared kitten who is trying to pretend that she’s big and brave. Paul Varjak, a man who moves in upstairs who reminds Holly of her brother, becomes her close friend, but even Paul is kept distant. She is so afraid of being owned that she won’t allow anyone close enough to touch her heart.

We might feel sorry for Holly, but how many of us live similar lifestyles? Oh, perhaps we aren’t taking money from old rich men, but we aren’t spending much time in our homes. For many people, a home is simply a place to sleep, bathe and occasionally interact with the people who live with us. We spend most of the day at school or work and then the evenings are filled with meetings or activities. Some kids are scheduled for lessons every day of the week. All too many of us do not even eat meals together at the dining room table. Oh, we might wolf down a happy meal on the way from one activity to another. I might even suggest that some families spend more time together in their cars than in their homes. Is that living? Mom can’t look her kids in the eye because she has to keep her eyes on the road. The kids usually have ear phones in their ears, especially the teenagers, so they can’t hear what mom is saying anyway.

Sadly, that’s often how we live with God. We are always on the run, constantly moving from one task to another, rushing through worship and hurrying through our prayers. Sometimes we do not even stop to listen. We just throw up a cry for help or beg for the things we think we need, rarely even considering whether or not it is God’s will for us. Just as we do not dwell in our homes, we do not dwell with God.

The past week or so has been interesting. The first school to be closed by the swine flu is in our school district. The rest of the schools in our district quickly followed, so Zack has been out of school for over a week. We haven’t locked ourselves in our homes as if we have been quarantined, but we have not gone out very much. We’ve taken a few short trips to the grocery store. I took Zack to the golf driving range a couple of times. But in a way this ‘vacation’ has been nice. We’ve been able to enjoy our home, to live in it, to love our kitties and watch television. Zack has cleaned his room and made it livable. We have dwelt in our home, been comfortable and safe.

Jesus says, “I am the true vine.” He calls us to abide in Him. This doesn’t mean checking in once in awhile with a quick prayer or a rushed worship service. It means living in Him, being with Him all the time, taking Him with us when we go out into the world. It means being comfortable and safe no matter where we are or what we face. And when we do this, when we dwell in Him always, we will bear good fruit because He will shine in and through us into the world. It has been said that for Christians, this world is just a place we are passing through, and yet we should unpack our bags and settle because this is where God can use us right now. Instead of living like Holly Golightly, hoping that one day we’ll figure out who we are and then move in to a home, let us always remember our home is with God wherever we might be, and we dwell in Him through faith and love.


May 6, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, May 10, 2009: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:25-31; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for apart from me ye can do nothing.

I’m not a horticulturalist. I can barely keep a plant alive. As a matter of fact, I bought these hanging baskets of petunias a few weeks ago, and I’m already seeing them droop and turn brown. We’ve been pretty good at watering, but we must be doing something wrong. I’m not surprised; it is typical of all our plants. Anything I buy usually looks pretty for a few days or weeks, but it doesn’t take very long before they are dead in the dirt.

That is why I’m not expert on today’s subject: grafting. I know that there are people who do wonderful things with plants, not only professionals but also people who create magnificent gardens with flowers and food. They know what to do to make the plants grow up healthy and strong. Some plants need a lot of water, some need special plant food. Some need a lot of light; others need a nice cool shady spot. Special care needs to be taken on plants that are vulnerable to pests. A good gardener knows just what to do to deal with all those problems.

Some horticulturists use a process called grafting to make plants stronger and better. Grafting is a process that takes the branch of one type of plant and growing it into the roots of another. In one type of grafting, the gardener takes the roots of a plant that does well in certain soil conditions and ads a plant that generally does not do well in that environment. For example, a gardener might take the roots of a drought resistant plant and add the stem of a favorite that needs more moisture. The roots of the plant will become strong and healthy despite the lack of water, while the branches will grow to be beautiful. Other grafting can be done to combine types of plants, like different varieties of apples on one tree. Grafting can provide pollinizers within one tree, such as grafting a male and a female holly bush together. It can done to repair damage, create a dwarf plant or to make it easier to propagate the plant.

The people in Jesus’ day were not agricultural experts, but they were familiar with the language of gardening. Grafting has been around for millennia, the Chinese did it two thousand years ago. The Romans used the technique and for the Greeks it was commonplace. They would have heard the words in John’s gospel and would have understood the idea of grafting. We are grafted into Jesus, He is the root. We are the branches. With Him as the root, we are made stronger and more resistant to the dangers of this world. We grow beautiful because of what Jesus gives to us. We are joined together, even if we are different than one another, into one plant that bears good, though different, fruit. Bonded together in this way, we also encourage one another to healthy growth. As part of the new plant, the Church, we look different, we are healed and we grow.

As grafted branches into the root which is Christ, we dwell in Him as part of His body, as part of His Church. We are individuals, but we are made part of the whole. We do not glorify God on our own. Without Christ we would be like those withered and dying plants I keep trying to grow around my house. In Him, with Him and through Him, God is glorified and made known to the world. We are reminded in this passage that God is the master gardener who prunes the bushes, but even in this warning there is comfort and grace. As we abide in Christ, we have nothing to fear. God knows what He’s doing: He is the Master. He only prunes what is necessary to make the vine grown strong.


May 7, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, May 17, 2009: Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

Acts 10:44-48 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them that heard the word. And they of the circumcision that believed were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid the water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.

The kids in our school district returned to school after nearly two weeks of vacation due to the swine flu. There is never a good time for this type of emergency, but it seems like the past two weeks have created a host of problems that need to be overcome before the end of the school year. The students missed a number of tests that are required for graduation or promotion to the next grade. Some of the tests are administered on a national and international level and there is little or no room for changing dates. Other local and state tests need to be administered around those schedules.

With eight days lost from the school year, will the teachers be able to present all the information and review it so that the students can succeed on their finals and end the year with good grades? Also, as the end of the school year approaches, there are some athletic and academic competitions that need to be completed. Now, we might think that these competitions are unimportant, however the winners in those events will be accepted to colleges and offered scholarships based on their outcomes. These awards are valuable on student resumes as they move into college and the working world. The seniors have other concerns. What will happen to graduation and the prom? The members of organizations are anxiously awaiting the end of the year banquets, a time to celebrate the accomplishments for the past nine months.

Some students and families might not care about these things. Few of the students care about it all. The college bound students will be more concerned with the grades and tests, while the athletes will be more concerned about the competitions. One student who is actively involved with the band might be disappointed that the banquet and the prom are scheduled for the same day, while another student might think it is ridiculous to be so upset about social events.

You really have to be involved in an organization to care about the things that happen. People who are not involved with band events do not understand how or why band people get so caught up in it all. But for those involved, band is a great way to make friends, to learn, to share talents and to succeed in school and life. Theater geeks (the work ‘geeks’ is used very affectionately) make no sense to those outside the theater. Clubs that revolve around interests and hobbies are very closed to those outside, not because others aren’t welcome, but because they are very narrow in their focus. Everyone can join the law enforcement club, but it isn’t necessarily a club everyone wants to join. Some clubs have certain requirements, but for most the only requirement is an interest in the focus of the group.

We generally do not think of Church as a club, and though some suggest otherwise, I don’t know of any churches that have certain requirements to join. In the days of the early church, there were those who thought that the Gospel message was for only certain people, but mostly because they continued to live by the rules of their faith. How could they fellowship with foreigners in a church setting if they weren’t allowed to fellowship with them according to their laws? The book of Acts takes us through the growing realization that God’s grace was given not only for a certain type of people, but for all.

In today’s story, Peter preaches the Gospel to a group of people who on hearing the grace of God receive the Holy Spirit. It was obvious that they had been anointed by God because they began to speak in tongues and they glorified God with their worship. This didn’t make sense to those who thought that their fellowship would remain closed to outsiders, but Peter was trying to show them what he’d learned that day on the roof when God reminded him everything He made was good.

So, Peter says, “God has offered forgiveness and mercy and grace to these Gentiles, who are we to suggest they can’t be part of our group?” So, he calls the gathering to join in the celebration of baptism, to welcome all those who had been touched by God in such a powerful and transforming way into the fellowship of believers. Baptism is the means of God’s forgiveness, but in this particular story we see that the Gentiles received that forgiveness from God’s own hand first. Baptism is also a way for the Church to say, “Welcome to our midst” and for us to promise to be a part of their new life with Christ. Some who hear and believe the Gospel might be people who don’t seem to fit in our group, but we see in this story that God does not have the same requirements for becoming part of His Church. So, we are called to care about them all, to share our faith and do whatever we can do to make them a part of our fellowship. Since God loves them, there is no reason why we shouldn’t!


May 8, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, May 17, 2009: Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

Psalm 98 Oh sing unto Jehovah a new song; For he hath done marvellous things: His right hand, and his holy arm, hath wrought salvation for him. Jehovah hath made known his salvation: His righteousness hath he openly showed in the sight of the nations. He hath remembered his lovingkindness and his faithfulness toward the house of Israel: All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise unto Jehovah, all the earth: break forth and sing for joy, yea, sing praises. Sing praises unto Jehovah with the harp; With the harp and the voice of melody. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the King, Jehovah. Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; The world, and they that dwell therein; let the floods clap their hands; Let the hills sing for joy together before Jehovah; for he cometh to judge the earth: He will judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with equity.

As we near the end of the school year, many parents are thinking about ways to thank the teachers. When my kids were in the younger schools, we usually bought a small gift for their classroom teacher and sometimes we even found something for their special teachers. It was a little harder when they went into Junior High and High School. It can get very expensive to buy gifts for all their teachers, especially when they would need something for seven different people. As the children got older, also, the kids did not become quite as attached to the teachers. They only saw those teachers an hour or so a day, and to be quite frank, they did not always like all their teachers. As the classes got harder, so did the teachers.

But I remember what it was like to try to think of something appropriate and affordable to give to a teacher. After all, how many “#1 Teacher” mugs can one person own? A friend was recently talking about her own experience, and in that particular school the parents of the children in the class pooled their resources to purchase something nicer for the teacher, but my friend was the room mom who had to go out and buy the gift. She was looking for suggestions about what sort of gift might make a teacher really feel appreciated. It is a hard question to answer.

And yet, most teachers are just happy being thanked and recognized for the work they do. Teaching is a thankless job. There is always a teacher who complains and most students are so anxious to get out of school that they do not even realize how much the teachers care about them. I know a lot of teachers really enjoy a special breakfast or lunch with homemade treats from parents. It is the simple pleasures of life that make us know how much we are loved.

Today’s psalm is a song of praise and thanksgiving for the good things God has done. The psalmist tells us about those things: about how God has won the victory over Israel’s oppressors and how He has saved them from exile. The psalmist sings about God’s faithfulness and His love for His people that is lasting. Telling others about the great things God has done is just one of the many ways we can sing His praise. The psalmist tells us other ways. We can sing a new song. We can sing praises with a harp. We can sound trumpets. The creation even gets involved with the heavens and earth joining in the noise of praise. The sea roars, the floods clap their hands, the hills sing.

We praise God in so many other ways, also. We gather in worship together, hear the Word together and study the Bible together. We gather in fellowship and at meals. We celebrate the sacraments. Our worship and praise does not stop at the front door of our churches, however. We praise God when we share a word of hope with someone in distress and when we give a cup of water to the thirsty. We praise God when we pray for the healing of the nations and our neighbors. We praise God when we tell His story and introduce others to the saving grace found through Jesus Christ our Lord.

We wonder how to say thank you to the teachers who give so much of their lives for our children and we ask the same question about how to thank God for all He’s done. I think asking the question about God is a much harder question because God has done such marvelous things and He is God. Earthly gifts are not always satisfying to the teachers in our lives, how can they be satisfying for the Creator and Redeemer of the world? And yet, just as those teachers enjoy those simple homemade treats, God is made happy with the sounds of joy He hears coming from His creation, especially the songs of joy sung by you and I in response to the great things He has done.


May 11, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, May 17, 2009: Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

1 John 5:1-6 Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God: and whosoever loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. Hereby we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and do his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith. And who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood.

We have two new kittens. Samson and Delilah were born in the same litter and the previous family wanted to keep them together, so we accepted both. They will be five months old next Sunday and they are in every sense of the word kittens. Having two kittens doesn’t seem to mean that we will have two times as much kitten trouble. It appears that the kitten trouble multiplies with every added kitten. These two get into everything. They are still small enough to fit into places where they should not fit. They climb on furniture where they are not welcome. They get their noses into cups of drink, usually managing to spill the cup and everything in it.

Now, let’s add Tigger to the mix. Tigger is not entirely sure what to think of these two kittens. Sometimes it is very obvious that he wants to be their friend. He sits and watches their play intently, I suppose as amazed as us at how much energy they have. He has tried to get them to play his games, but they don’t quite understand what he wants them to do. Felix and Tigger used to play a game of chase tag where one of the cats would start the run up the steps and the other would follow. Somewhere upstairs they would change direction and the first cat would chase the other down the street. Tigger will do the things he used to do with Felix to get Felix to chase, but the kittens just look at him with question marks in their eyes.

It doesn’t help that Tigger tends to greet the kittens with a hiss or a growl. After all, they are always in the middle of everything Tigger wants to do. If we begin playing with Tigger’s favorite toy, they jump right into the game. If we want to give Tigger a treat, they follow their noses to the food and try to steal whatever it is we have given to him. On those rare occasions when the kittens try to get close enough to Tigger to have a sniff, Tigger bats at them with his paw.

Now, he has to establish his dominance in the situation. He has to show them who is the boss. His worst moments of hissing and growling usually comes soon after the kittens have been caught doing something bad, like climbing on the dining room table or knocking the TV plug out of the wall. He’s acting like the Daddy disciplining his little ones. Unfortunately, Tigger has not yet figured out how to love the kittens in a way that makes them comfortable in his presence. So, when he wants to play, they are still too afraid to get close to him to play. He’s getting used to them being around, and I’m sure soon they will all be great friends.

I worry sometimes that Tigger is just going to be a big bully, although the day will come when Samson rivals him in size and strength. I want him to learn to love the kittens, to share in their playtime and to even be comfortable sleeping near them. He won’t ever be happy if he lives his life as a bully, always fighting and hissing and growling with the new kittens. There is hope; I can see it every time Tigger gets playful when the kittens are nearby. One day they will figure out how to play. One day, perhaps, Tigger will figure out that the best way to overcome his fear is to face change with a positive attitude. Of course, that’s hard for a cat to do. Though animals often display human traits, they don’t have the human ability to reason. It might just take the kittens continually trying to love him for him to finally become comfortable with these new situations.

It is funny, though, how similar to animals human bullies can be. They generally do not find comfort or peace in their bullying, and often are looking for some sort of relationship but they do not know how to make it happen. They are, more often than they would admit, afraid of something. Bullies don’t pick on people larger or stronger; they pick on those smaller and weaker. So, the small and weak have to find a way to build a relationship with the bully.

We are often bullied by the world because of our Christian faith. Non-believers do not understand our perspective or attitude; they are, perhaps, afraid of what they see in our lives. Faith means change. It means transformation. It means living differently than the world. We are commanded to love our God and our neighbor. Jesus taught that we should love our enemy and do nothing to bring him or her harm. Jesus taught that it is better to suffer persecution for the Gospel than to turn to the ways and methods of the world.

I suppose the kittens could get mean with Tigger. Though he is bigger, they are more powerful because there are two of them. I don’t think they will ever get mean, though. They want to love Tigger. And I don’t really think Tigger is a bully. He’s just trying to learn to live in this new situation where he has to share his world with two very active and outrageous personalities. As Christians, we are to obey God, live by His commandments, and show the world our gifts. We'll face many people who do not understand our faith and they will respond with anger and bullying. When we love as God has commanded us to love, the world will see the light of Christ and experience the reality of life in faith. Our love, or Christ's love in and through us, might just help the bully see that life is much better when lived in love and hope and peace.


May 12, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, May 17, 2009: Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

John 15:9-17 Even as the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you: abide ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do the things which I command you. No longer do I call you servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I heard from my Father, I have made known unto you. Ye did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye may love one another.

There is a special museum in Xi’an, a city in central China. This museum is located underground and is the excavation of an army of terra-cotta warriors created to guard the tomb of China’s first Emperor. These 7500 amazing life-size clay statues are being carefully exhumed and restored for modern archeologists to study and people to see.

The ruler was Qin Shi Huangdi. He began his life as a ruler in China when he was just thirteen. He was a warlord who fought against other warlords for twenty-five years, taking control of more and more men until he had an army of over a million. He dominated the people, using violence to gain power over his enemies until he was the most powerful man in the land. He then took on the name Qin Shi Huangdi, which means “First Divine Emperor in China.” He was in some ways a good ruler. He unified China, built the great wall, and developed a capital city with excellent infrastructure. He was so confident about his power and position that he claimed that his dynasty would last ten thousand years.

But, Qin Shi Huangdi was afraid of death. He built hundreds of palaces that were connected by underground tunnels. He could sleep in a different palace each night to avoid assassination. He even refused to die a normal physical death, so he sent his wise men to locate the fountain of youth, which they never found.

Though the Emperor accomplished great things, he did it with excessive cruelty, slaughtering people and destroying the treasures of the culture. Finally, the prime minister conspired with others and the Emperor was assassinated when he was just forty-one years old. The conspirators sent a forged letter to his only son and convinced him to commit suicide, leaving the legacy that this dynasty was the shortest in China’s history.

Qin Shi Huangdi lived in fear, for though he was a very powerful man, he did not know grace, mercy or love. He knew only his desires to live forever and treated his people as if they were only the means by which he would get what he wanted. He was the exact opposite of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, which we see revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus came not to gain power, but to bring forgiveness. He came not to build a kingdom through violence, but to unify people by the Word of God. He came to give us the love of God so that we can live in that love and share it with others. He did not fear death, but laid His life down for our sake.

The terra-cotta warriors stand as a testament to the life of the first man to unify China and who brought good things to the people of that great land. Yet, it is also a testament to how human ways pass quickly. The dynasty of Qin Shi Huangdi lasted less than a lifetime because the emperor did not know the power of love, only the power of the sword. He came to an end as he brought the end to many. But the kingdom of God is eternal; He reigns here and now and in the future, because it is built on love and mercy. Our Lord Jesus grants salvation freely to those who believe in His name. Through Him we are heirs to a kingdom that is built to last, to endure even longer than ten thousand years. It is in that kingdom we are called to live.


May 13, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday May 17, 2009: Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

These things I command you, that ye may love one another.

Our new kitten Delilah has been sick. She has had to take medicine to overcome an infection in her liver. The medicine is Amoxicillin, which is the same medicine we had to give our kids when they had ear infections when they were young. This type of medicine has a very quick effect on the disease, and she is definitely feeling better. This type of medicine, however, also requires diligence. It is not enough to take it for a few days until the symptoms seem to disappear. It is important that the patient continue taking the full course of the medicine for the disease to completely disappear.

Now, if you have ever had to deal with sick pets, you know that it is very, very difficult to make them take the medicine. I found some tips online which have helped me tremendously, and I am much better at dealing with her now. It is still hard to get her pills down her throat, but she readily accepts her Amoxicillin because of how it is handled. Ok, perhaps she readily accepts it because she knows that after she gets her medicine she will also get a treat.

This morning I was in the kitchen getting ready to start my day. Delilah came and sat at my feet. She may have thought I was getting some breakfast and that I might give her a bite of something. However she did not run away when I got the medicine out of the refrigerator. She waited patiently as I readied the dropper. She allowed me to pick her up and calmly accepted the medicine. When it was over, she went to the place where I keep the treats and waited patiently as I put the medicine away. She excitedly received her treats and returned the love I gave her as I praised her for being so cooperative.

Now, the boys (Tigger and Samson) don’t need medicine, but they know the sound of the treat bag and they know that Delilah gets a treat when she’s had her medicine. They both ran quickly to the kitchen and began sniffing the air near where I was with Delilah. Now, cats do fall into habits very quickly, so it is no surprise that they are all anxious for the treats.

The thing that is most impressive is how Delilah welcomes the other kitties into her treat time. Last night she even shared some of her treats with Tigger. They were gathered around me, enjoying their treats. Delilah and Tigger were standing very close to one another. When Tigger finished his, he looked at Delilah and she looked at him. Then she pushed one of her treats his way. I’m not so sure she did it on purpose, although it happened twice and she did not get upset when Tigger ate the treats. We don’t often see the same attitude from children or even adult humans. We don’t like to share when we have something special, especially if we know that it is a reward for something we’ve had to suffer through. We would even wonder why the others got the treat when they didn’t have to take the medicine.

Does Delilah have the ability to reason that would make her able to actually share with the other cats? Is she willingly sacrificing for the sake of Tigger and Samson? I don’t know. Probably not. Cats are creatures of habit, and as long as she had enough, I don’t think she would mind one way or another. And yet it made me very happy to see her ‘sharing’ with Tigger. It was like she was trying to show him that she loves him and that she wants to be his friend. It seemed like she was willing to sacrifice for his sake and to help build their relationship.

Christ’s commandment is that we love one another and lay down our lives for our friends. We are commanded to bear fruit, lasting fruit, fruit built on love. His command is that we live as He lived, in selfless, sacrificial love. Sacrifice means giving up something, perhaps even something we love or something we have earned through our own suffering. It means changing our ways. But when we practice sacrificial love we do not experience a sense of loss or emptiness because those things are no longer for us to enjoy. We find the real joy in the relationship we have with Christ through our obedience to His command. The grace of God does not come to us because we are obedient. Instead, we receive God’s grace which fills us with His love. As we abide in love, we can do no other than be obedient. Abiding in God’s love is a life of joy, even when it means sacrifice.


May 14, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday May 24, 2009: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 And in these days Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren, and said (and there was a multitude of persons gathered together, about a hundred and twenty), Brethren, it was needful that the Scripture should be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spake before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who was guide to them that took Jesus. For he was numbered among us, and received his portion in this ministry. [(Now this man obtained a field with the reward of his iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch that in their language that field was called Akeldama, that is, The field of blood.) For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be made desolate, And let no man dwell therein: and, His office let another take.] Of the men therefore that have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and went out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto the day that he was received up from us, of these must one become a witness with us of his resurrection. And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show of these two the one whom thou hast chosen, to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas fell away, that he might go to his own place. And they gave lots for them; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. [I have included verses 18-20, which are bracketed.]

The television series “Still Standing” is about a not so average middle class family. Bill and Judy were high school sweethearts who gave up their wild ways for family life. Their three kids fit typical stereotypes: the brainy geek, the drama queen and the rambunctious youngest daughter. The kids tend to be more responsible than the parents, and the parents are always the troublemakers. There are other interesting characters, including Bill’s mother and Judy’s sister. These relationships are also rather stereotypical, also: the mother-in-law and wife, sister-in-law and husband, everyone driving everyone else insane.

In one episode, the youngest daughter Tina was required to create a project for school and she built a “Yes or No” machine. Basically, you asked a “Yes or No” question and put a marble into a hole. The marble fell through a series of tubes, ramps and levers until it ended up in one bowl or the other. One bowl meant “Yes” and the other bowl meant “No.” There was nothing scientific about the answers, it was a machine that demonstrated probabilities. The chance of getting a yes or no answer was about the same. There was nothing magical or divine about the answers and it never should have been used to make major life decisions.

But Judy’s sister Linda thought the machine was absolutely amazing. After one very simple, and unimportant question, which gave her the answer she expected and wanted to hear, Linda went back to the machine over and over again with life-changing questions. She was excited when the answers came out the way she wanted and disappointed when it didn’t, but whatever the answer she accepted it as the right decision. Then she went out to do the things the magic machine told her to do. There’s a reason why we don’t use a probability machine to make our decisions for us. In the show, the decisions Linda made were not good for her life. She bought things she shouldn’t buy and broke relationships that she should not break. It was foolish for her to rely on a silly children’s toy to decide her life path.

I have always had trouble with this passage because the disciples relied on luck in seeking the answer to a very important question: who will replace Judas and become the twelfth disciple? This is the only time the Twelve made a replacement. As the church began to grow and disperse, the original disciples went to the four corners of the earth. But at this point, the church was still small and they were still clinging to the model Jesus had established. There are some that suggest that they weren’t meant to choose a twelfth: that Paul was always meant to replace Judas. I do not necessarily agree with that idea, since Paul’s ministry was much different than that established in the early Church.

The thing that makes this casting of lots different than Linda’s foolish use of a child’s machine is that the disciples had prayed first and sought God’s hand in the fall of the lots. They had chosen two very good men to replace Judas: either one would have done a terrific job at ministering to the people and sharing the Gospel message. I’m sure that they would not have cast lots if there had been only one real choice. Justus and Matthias were faithful members of the community. They were probably both very responsible and respected. They both probably had gifts for speaking and teaching and preaching. They both must have been willing to sacrifice some aspects of their own life for the sake of the Gospel. When you have two perfectly acceptable choices, sometimes the best way to decide is by the luck of the draw. And yet, we are reminded that even though they used lots, they also prayed for God to help them make the right decision. They left it to God to cause the lots to fall according to His good and perfect will.

We want to be able to hear the answers clearly so that we make the right decisions in our life. And yet we can not be absolutely certain that we are hearing the right voices. We like to have something tangible, physical on which to hold that helps us to be sure that our decision is good, right and true. We must beware, however, to not manipulate the outcome of those tangible things so that we’ll get the answer we want, like Linda did with the “Yes or No” machine. If we do try to use tangible items to help us make the decisions that affect our lives, we should not leave every aspect of that decision up to luck and we should ask God to direct the lots according to His will.


May 15, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday May 24, 2009: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

Psalm 1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked, Nor standeth in the way of sinners, Nor sitteth in the seat of scoffers: But his delight is in the law of Jehovah; And on his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the streams of water, That bringeth forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also doth not wither; And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The wicked are not so, But are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For Jehovah knoweth the way of the righteous; But the way of the wicked shall perish.

Victoria and I went shopping at the local outlet center this week. When we were finished shopping, we decided we wanted to grab a bit of lunch. We were going to go through a drive thru to get a drink and some chicken strips, but when we pulled into the lot of one store we decided we wanted to go to another. I tried to go around the building to get to the next place, but the parking lots were not connected. I followed the road, but since the complex is very new and still under construction, some of the roads were incomplete. In other words, we got lost driving through the parking lots. We finally found a road and in the process we found a place I’ve wanted to try for a long time. Instead of drive through, we went in to sit down and eat a decent lunch and walk around the shop.

This was not our first, or our most exciting, car adventure. As a matter of fact, some of my best stories have to deal with getting lost. One of my favorites is from the first time I drove our car in England. We’d bought a brand new American car to take overseas. Yes, it was a left hand drive and I’d be driving on the wrong side of the road, but many people said I would get used to it. The car had been delivered to us less than a week before we had it shipped to England, and we were on vacation so Bruce did all the driving. In other words, I had never driven that particular car. A car is a car, but driving a new car takes some getting used to: you have to find the windshield wipers and other buttons. I also did not have the opportunity to drive in England before the day we picked up the car at the port. So, I knew it would be a learning experience when I got behind the wheel of our car that day.

I followed Bruce out of the parking lot and on to the divided highway. I did not know my way home, so I had to keep close behind or I would definitely get lost in the English countryside. The highway was not too bad, and it gave me a chance to get used to the cars being on the wrong side of the road. Then we came to the exit, and a roundabout. For those unfamiliar with the English road system, road junctions are not intersections like here in the states. They build a circle around which the cars go until the get to the ‘exit’ for their road. It isn’t a bad system, it is actually easier to find your way if you make a wrong turn. The roundabouts are well marked with signs pointing to towns. You just follow the signs to the town where you want to end up, and you’ll find your way.

So, just as we exited the highway and pulled into this roundabout, it began to rain. I had no idea where to find the on/off switch for the windshield wipers. I fixed my eyes on the red car in front of me, safely exited the roundabout, found the wiper switch and headed on the road toward home. At least I thought I was headed toward home. Bruce was driving very fast and I was having a hard time keeping up. I knew the country roads in England were 60 M.P.H. but Bruce also knew that it was my first time in that car on those roads. I thought he should be more considerate. By the time I lost the car as it rounded the furthest hill from my position, I realized I wasn’t following Bruce. I had followed the wrong car. And I was lost!

Well, as it turned out, I wasn’t that lost. I came to the next roundabout, followed the sign to my town, and after a few pleasant wrong turns I made it home safe and sound. It was pleasant because I enjoyed watching the English countryside, seeing some of the beautiful old country estates and the quaint villages along the way. My only concern was that Bruce would be worried. Actually, he ended up taking the wrong exit off the roundabout and found himself back on the highway, going back the way we had come. His adventure was not nearly as fun as mine!

Getting lost on the road, however, is not always a fun adventure. One night Victoria and I were trying to find our way home in the dark. I took a wrong exit and ended up in the middle of the country and I had no idea where we were. I could make out a building in the distance that looked like the one near our destination, but I could not find a way to get to it. I was in a development that had a lot of odd streets and dead ends. I was running out of gas and afraid we might never make it home. We did, but it was definitely a scary evening for us both.

The psalmist tells us that the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. Our problem is that sometimes we want to go the way of the wicked. It is fun, it is exciting, it is an adventure. Some may think that the way of righteousness seems uninteresting, tedious, boring. And it doesn’t seem like God always protects those on the right road or punish those on the right. After all, the good suffer as much as the wicked. But, there is joy found at the end of the journey as God welcomes those who have followed His path home.


May 18, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday May 24, 2009: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

1 John 5:9-13 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for the witness of God is this, that he hath borne witness concerning his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in him: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he hath not believed in the witness that God hath borne concerning his Son. And the witness is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life. These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God.

My kids don’t believe what I say. Well, it isn’t that they don’t believe everything I say, but they don’t believe some of the things I say. For example, I can tell them a bit of knowledge about science, but they will not believe that it is true until they hear it from a science teacher. I was constantly frustrated by this lack of belief, especially since they usually shared the ‘new knowledge’ with me as if I had never said it in the first place. They would come home from school and say, “Guess what I learned today?” And then when I hear the lesson, I answer, “But I told you that a week ago and you didn’t believe me.” They usually responded with something like “Oh, I don’t remember you saying that.”

The same is true of advice. I can tellVictoria that a dress will look beautiful, but she never believes me. She won’t even try on the dress most of the time. We were in a store looking for an evening gown for an event that Victoria was going to attend. I had already purchased her a dress that would have been fantastic for her. I wasn’t sure if we would have time to go shopping before the event, which is why I bought it in the first place. She looked at the dress on the hanger and hated it. “It will look horrible, Mom.” Yes, it did look horrible on the hanger, but it was the perfect style and color for her body type. She refused to even try it on. We returned the gown and went to another store. She picked a dress almost identical to the one I had purchased and tried it on. It was lovely. She had to admit that I was probably right about the other gown. In that store I found another dress that would have been perfect. She didn’t want to try it on, but I made her. She admitted, again, that I was right. That dress was the one we purchased. She never would have even tried it on because she did not trust my experience and judgment about clothing.

I don’t think anyone needs to believe everything I say because quite frankly I, like everyone else, is wrong once in a while. Ok, I’m often wrong. I don’t have all the information or I base my opinion on my own biases. We all make mistakes. We have to discern whether or not to believe the things that people say. The experts in fields of study do not even agree; some even give totally opposing answers to the same question. I’m reading a book about science and religion and it can be extremely confusing as the writer compares theories addressing the same problem with absolutely opposite answers.

Despite this problem, we do believe what people tell us. We believe the reporters when they tell us the news. We believe our teachers when they tell us about history or science or math. We believe the government when it tells us what has to happen to solve a problem. We believe our pastors when they teach things about God. Sometimes we put our faith in the wrong people. The reporters do not always get it right. Teachers often teach only what they want a student to know, ignoring other points of view. Throughout history governments have failed. Pastors have made mistakes interpreting the text.

But God does not make mistakes. We can believe what He has told us. We can believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. We can believe that through the water and the blood—through His life and His death—we have been given the blessedness of forgiveness and eternal life. If we can believe the reporters, teachers, government and pastors, we can believe God. But God does not leave us without witnesses. Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit stand also as witnesses to the great work God has done for us. Believe and rest in the knowledge that God has done this and that we are who do believe are truly saved.


May 19, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday May 24, 2009: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

John 17:6-19 I manifested thy name unto the men whom thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them to me; and they have kept thy word. Now they know that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are from thee: for the words which thou gavest me I have given unto them; and they received them, and knew of a truth that I came forth from thee, and they believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for those whom thou hast given me; for they are thine: and all things that are mine are thine, and thine are mine: and I am glorified in them. And I am no more in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are. While I was with them, I kept them in thy name which thou hast given me: and I guarded them, and not one of them perished, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy made full in themselves. I have given them thy word; and the world hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them from the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth: thy word is truth. As thou didst send me into the world, even so sent I them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

Victoria and I went to Little Rock this past weekend for an anniversary party. The church we attended while we lived there celebrated fifty years of ministry. We also attended the ordination of a dear friend. It was a wonderful weekend. We walked around Little Rock and were impressed by the way they have revitalized the downtown area. There is a lovely park that runs along the river. The Clinton Library and park includes a brand new Heifer International Center and a soon to open Village. We found a great pizza place downtown, did a little shopping at a store that has no locations in San Antonio and attended worship at our old church. It was great to visit with old friends and make a few new ones. We even had fun during the long drive to and from home.

We stayed in a nice hotel downtown, although our stay was not completely pleasant. The room was great, the hotel staff took care of our needs and we had a good breakfast at the restaurant. However, there was a group of women attending a conference who were staying in our hotel. In general the women were not a problem. We saw many wandering around town, rushing off to meetings and sitting together chatting about the business of their organization. I’m sure it is a great organization and that they do very good work. Unfortunately, we were given a room next to some of these women, and these particular women were not exactly good neighbors.

We were exhausted Friday night after a long day on the road and a lovely walk through the downtown area. We settled into bed at a decent hour because we knew that Saturday would be very busy. I’m not sure what time the ladies returned to their room Friday night, but it was pretty late and they did not consider the other people staying in the hotel. They soon began a lengthy conversation about one of their fellow members, an officer in their organization that did something they did not like. I can give you a lengthy report about all her faults and haughty attitudes because these ladies talked so loud it sounded as if they were right in our room with us. It even woke Victoria from sleep.

At about 1:30, I got up and pounded on the door between our rooms. They acknowledged the knock, although not apologetically, and quieted down briefly. By 1:45 they were loudly complaining again about the woman. I called the front desk and asked them to take care of it and they promised to send someone to the room. I’m not sure whether I ever heard someone knock, but I did hear doors open and close. It got quiet, briefly. When it started again, I got up, ready to dial the front desk for a second time, but a little after 2:00 a.m. it got very quiet and we were able to fall asleep. We always knew when they were in the room because they were never considerate of their neighbors, but that was the last time they kept us from sleep.

It is very odd to be an outsider but also privy to such an intimate conversation. I felt bad for the woman and wondered if she was really as terrible as they made her sound. I found myself looking at the faces of the women from the conference wondering if they were either the woman or the group of women in the room next door. I wanted to find the woman and tell her about her ‘friends,’ but I knew that was inappropriate. I was in their world because we were all staying in the same hotel and I overheard their conversation, but I was not part of their world.

People often wonder why there are Christians. After all, it seems like our faith in God should guarantee that we will not suffer and that we’ll be happy all the time. However, we do live in the world and we are affected by the world in which we live. God does take care of us, but that is no guarantee that we will never be sick or hurt or in need. God will get us through the hard times. In faith we will experience the suffering with grace as our foundation and hope as our strength. As we are in this world, as we wait for the final fulfillment of all God has promised, we are called to live as Christ lived. And as we do so, we will be sanctified to do the work that He began until He comes again.


May 20, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday May 24, 2009: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

The wicked are not so, But are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

My experience in Little Rock is really not very surprising. People are people, and there are always those in every organization that do not get along with one another, including the church. I am certain that I’ve spent sleepless nights in hotel rooms at conferences or conventions thinking—if not talking—about someone who has done something to hurt me during the event. It is possible that the woman really did do wrong. It is equally possible that the ladies in the room next door had done something wrong. It is probable that everyone is at fault for the broken relationship. We want to lay blame on the other person, forgetting that we are also imperfect and ignoring the role we might play in the situation.

One of the hardest characters in the story of Jesus for us to understand and deal with is Judas. He finds his way into our text this week and it is interesting that he does so a week before Pentecost. In Judas we see the failure. In Judas we see the follower who is faithless. In Judas we see the member of the organization that goes their own way, who does their own thing, who is concerned only about self rather than the group. When we are hurt by someone, we think of them like we think about Judas.

The thing that makes it difficult for us is that it seems as though Judas did not have any choice. In the prayer from John’s Gospel, Jesus calls Judas ‘the son of perdition,’ which means he was slated for eternal damnation or utter destruction. Yet, Jesus says he was destined for such. Could Judas have done anything but turn Jesus over to the authorities? Jesus had to die. He knew it from the beginning and had been telling His disciples about His death in the parables and teachings. It was part of the plan. Judas was destined to be the one to betray Jesus. It could not have been a stranger because the prophecy said that it would be one who was numbered among the group. Jesus even told Judas to go and do what he had to do. Can we really blame Judas for Jesus death when Jesus knew that it had to be that way?

I suppose the next question to ask, however, is what Jesus meant when he said that Judas was destined for eternal damnation. Was Judas’ suicide alone in a field part of the plan? Or, by eternal damnation did Jesus simply mean that Judas would be blamed and damned by every generation of Christian forever for Jesus’ death? Judas was, after all, not the only one to turn his back on Jesus. Peter, beloved Peter, denied Jesus three times on the night of the trial, and did not stand with Jesus at the food of the cross. Peter’s response to the arrest was as Jesus predicted, but it served no greater purpose for God’s plan. As a matter of fact, Peter’s denial was self-centered. He was protecting himself. Judas, on the other hand, was doing what he was expected to do.

So, what is the difference between Peter and Judas? Peter was forgiven. Now, Judas sought forgiveness. He took the coins back to the priests and begged them to take them back. He confessed his sin and asked to be forgiven in the manner he was familiar—at the temple by the priests. But when he did so, the priests sent him away without satisfaction. They refused to take back the money because it was blood money and they did nothing to forgive his sins. What choice did Judas have? He was no longer welcome among the people with whom he’d spent three years. Jesus was dead. It seems he had no family and friends. He didn’t understand what would happen to Jesus in just a few days. Nobody did. No one expected Jesus to be raised. No one expected that Jesus could forgive them for their failure. If Judas had only waited, would his story have ended any differently?

That’s the difference between Judas and Peter. Peter waited. He was probably suffering from despair just like Judas. He thought he could handle anything and that he could stand up with Jesus, but he failed. Peter was not a strong man. He constantly wavered between bravado and humiliation. In one breath Peter could confess his faith that Jesus is Lord and then in the next breath think he could control the will and purpose of God. Perhaps that was his salvation in those dark days between the crucifixion and resurrection. Perhaps his salvation was the community in which he lived. Judas didn’t have that community. He was, and still is, blamed for what happened on that dark day two thousand years ago. Whether he deserves our disdain or not, he will forever be damned in our eyes. He followed the path of the wicked, not that he betrayed Jesus, but that he didn’t look to Jesus for forgiveness, and he is no more than chaff blowing in the wind.


May 21, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday May 31, 2009: Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Ezekiel 37:1-14 The hand of Jehovah was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of Jehovah, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. And he caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord Jehovah, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy over these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of Jehovah. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah unto these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah. So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and, behold, an earthquake; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I beheld, and, lo, there were sinews upon them, and flesh came up, and skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off. Therefore prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O my people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am Jehovah, when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I will place you in your own land: and ye shall know that I, Jehovah, have spoken it and performed it, saith Jehovah.

A preacher I once heard gave a significant point and punctuated it with the phrase, “Can I get an Amen!” Now the congregation to which this preacher was speaking is not one that would typically speak out during the sermon. So, when the pastor said, “Can I get an Amen!” the congregation sorta looked at one another and then finally someone muttered “Amen,” very quietly. A few others joined in and in the end it was a pretty pathetic answer. The preacher was unwilling to let it pass, so she said again, “Can I get an Amen!” This time the people were not caught unaware and they responded with a resounding “AMEN!” The pastor said that she knew it was really hard for them to do that and she thanked them. It was a humorous moment that had us laughing well into the Hymn of the Day.

I’ve preached, so I know how hard it is to stand in the pulpit and look out into a congregation of glazed eyes and bobbing heads. It is impossible to get through a sermon without wondering if they are listening, or if they are getting anything out of the words I’m speaking. I come from a tradition that isn’t known for vocal responses to the sermons. We listen, we learn, we are transformed by the words, but we do not respond. In one sense that is not a bad thing. It becomes difficult to hear what the pastor is saying when everyone around is yelling “Amen” and “Alleluia. However, it is impossible for the pastor to know if they’ve had an impact. The people seem asleep, or dead, by the end of the sermon.

I think that’s my greatest fear when I speak in public: that the people will stop listening and that I won’t have an impact. I remember what it was like to be a disc jockey at an impossible party. The worst parties were always those where the bride and the bride’s mom couldn’t agree to the type of music that should be played. I would move back and forth between their favorite music, constantly attacked by the other for playing music that the crowd won’t enjoy. Meanwhile, in trying to make them both happy, the guests were left confused and unwilling to get up and dance. The music never brought the party to life. In that case I wasn’t able to do my job because my clients tried to control my work. However, I had at least a few parties where I couldn’t get the crowd involved. Good dance music, party games, begging: none of them made a difference. At one such party the people requested songs but never got up to dance. When I said I’d be glad to play the song, but would they please get up and dance. The guest answered, “Oh, we just like to listen to music. You are doing a terrific job, but we just aren’t dancers. We are enjoying the time spent visiting with people we rarely get to see.”

I couldn’t always tell my success by the number of people on the dance floor. A preacher can’t always judge the success of a sermon by the responses of the congregation. The real test is whether or not the music or the sermon makes a difference in the life of the person listening. If the crowd is happy and having a good time, then the disc jockey is doing a good job. If the congregation is glorifying God with their lives, then the preacher is bringing God’s Word to the people in a transforming and life-giving manner.

Today’s lesson is a miraculous witness to the work God can do in this world. He gave the prophet Ezekiel the words to speak so that the dead were raised to new life. While I doubt that this will literally happen in our seeing, this is what God does every day with His Word. He speaks His word into our lives and brings to life those who are dead in their sin. He puts His Spirit into their hearts so that they will have faith and hope in God’s promises. I’ve heard it said that there are dead churches, places that seem to have no life. Perhaps this is true; there are many Christians who are like the walking dead, or at least look like the walking dead in the congregation. It makes one wonder whether or not they really believe the message of the cross and the forgiveness of sin. Yet, if God can bring life to the valley of dry bones, then He can bring life to the deadest of congregations. We are called to speak the Gospel into the lives of those we meet, whether we are a preacher or teacher or a neighbor, and we can be like Ezekiel, speaking God’s word of promise into their lives. We might even see the bones rise up and dance.


May 22, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday May 31, 2009: Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b 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. [I included 35a.]

Victoria and I took a trip to the San Antonio Zoo yesterday. We love to visit the zoo because it gives us a chance to walk around enjoying the weather and watching the antics of all the animals. I have some favorites, of course. Any sort of monkey or ape is fun to watch because they are very animated and active. They love to perform for the crowd. Even in the heat of day it is likely we’ll find some monkey flying around his habitat, swinging from rope to rope in an effort to make the crowds laugh.

Our trip to the zoo was a spur of the moment decision, so we began our visit late in the day. It gets awful hot here in Texas, even in May, so many of the animals were already resting quietly in shady and cool spots. It was hard to find some of the animals because they like to hide in the shady places behind rocks or in caves to avoid the heat of the sun. The big cats are the most fun to watch sleep because they remind me so much of my own kitties. The clouded leopard was curled up in a corner and the black panthers were sprawled out on a cliff ledge. One of them was even lying on his (or her) back happily content in his (or her) home.

As we wondered past the porcupine exhibit, Victoria pointed at an animal climbing on the rocky wall, thinking at first that it was the porcupine. It was actually a squirrel, but it was an understandable mistake. Who would have thought that you would see a squirrel running around in a cage in a zoo? Yet, these habitats are open and squirrels can get into the oddest places. It wasn’t even a challenge for him. We saw lots of squirrels around the zoo, stealing the food out of bowls of the animals. I commented about one, “Wow, that’s a pretty fat squirrel,” and Victoria answered, “Well, they get plenty of food from all the other animals. She was right; all the squirrels appeared well fed. But then, all the animals are well fed at the zoo. The keepers take very good care of their animals so that they will live long and healthy lives. We even saw the elephant keepers giving Lucky the elephant a pedicure.

One of the fun things to do while at the zoo is to watch as the keepers feed certain animals. Some species just get a bowl full of vegetables or grains and are not much fun to watch. They get fed at a regular time each day, but not scheduled for public viewing. There are always a few animals that are exciting to watch. We noticed on the list, however, that the animals on the list were not animals with gracious table manners. They are all animals whose dining would be disgusting to witness. The alligators tear apart whatever meat they are given. The same would be true of the condors, Komodo dragons and crocodiles. The events are worth visiting because you learn so much about the animals, but they aren’t pleasant to watch.

What is really interesting about the feeding times is that some of the animals are only fed on a weekly basis. Take, for instance, the articulated python, whose feeding time is not normally open for public viewing. Victoria had the opportunity to see this incredible event because she was a volunteer a couple years ago. The snake was huge and she said that they gave it a whole frozen pig. The python wrapped himself around the pig, opened his jaw and began to push it into his body. The pig remained whole until it was digested inside the snake. She said you can just see the lump move down through the body. They feed the python weekly because he simply does not need to eat any more often. The caretakers know what they need and when, and they do what is necessary.

In today’s passage, the psalmist writes, “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.” If human caretakers can do what is good, right and true for the animals in their care, how much more can we trust in our God to give us what we need? We might not be as patient as we should be, however, wanting what we want when we want it. Sometimes we are like the squirrels, running from one place to another, stealing the good things from others instead of waiting for our own good things. God knows what we need, and as we patiently wait for our turn we’ll see that God is truly good and gracious.


May 25, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday May 31, 2009: Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Romans 8:22-27 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only so, but ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For in hope were we saved: but hope that is seen is not hope: for who hopeth for that which he seeth? But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

Have you ever watched one of those funny video shows and ‘felt’ whatever was happening to the person on the screen? Take, for instance, the person being hit on the head by a baseball. Don’t you reach your hand to your head and rub it as if you have also been hit? How about the guy who is kicked in the gut by an over-anxious child? Doesn’t that make you double over in pain? We ‘feel’ what they feel out of empathy or as a memory of some hurt we have already experienced.

But this doesn’t only work with pain. How many get excited on the final show of “American Idol” anxiously awaiting the results that have been weeks in the making? With all the hype on all the television stations, it is no wonder that the viewers become attached to one or more of the contestants. Those whose favorite won the contest feel an immense pride and happiness, with and for their choice. Those whose favorite lost feel like they have lost, too. Many join in the chorus of disbelief, insisting that it was a huge mistake. “They made a mistake,” some yell. “America messed up again,” I heard from those commenting on the “American Idol” results this week.

We may be individuals, with individual gifts and talents, but we are built to belong in a community. We can not live in that community and remain an island. We become part of other people’s lives. We feel their pain. We celebrate their successes. We share what we have with those who have less. We receive the gifts of others with thankfulness and grace. Our communities are not necessarily just the people who live next door or in our hometown, anymore. Modern media, instantaneous Internet and social networking has made it easier for us to be part of new types of communities. While it is still vitally important that we be in touch with humanity on a face to face, hand to hand level, modern technology has enlarged our individual worlds in incredible ways. We can feel the pain of a complete stranger, not only on a funny video show but also with those in a war-torn country. And we can reach out in ways that would never have been imaginable a century ago.

However, this is nothing new. God created us to be part of community. That community includes not only the other people who are our neighbors, but also the whole of creation. Sometimes we look past the world in which we live. I’m not talking simply about environmental awareness. How many of us really notice how a thunderstorm rattles the entire earth or how a sunset includes all the colors of the rainbow? Do we ever really stop to smell the roses and notice how the flower bed is home to a dozen different creatures? We might think about heaven when we are dealing with the loss of someone we love or when we are frightened by our own mortality, but do we think about the future promise of the earth’s renewal?

The creation suffers because of our sin, not only because we abuse and misuse the things that God has so graciously given to our care. The creation suffers because we suffer. It is broken because we are broken. And it longs for the day when it will be made whole again. Paul writes that “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains.” The promise has been fulfilled and has yet to be fulfilled. We have the first fruits, so it is up to us to become reconciling the world and one another to God. We can’t do it alone, which is why God has sent His Spirit to help us. And we won’t finish the job, that’s up to God. But we know that He will do it in His time and in His way. He will make us whole again. Until then, we groan along with the entire creation for God to bring new life and a new heaven and a new earth as He has promised.


May 26, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday May 31, 2009: Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall bear witness of me: and ye also bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning. And these things I said not unto you from the beginning, because I was with you… But now I go unto him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? But because I have spoken these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I go, I will send him unto you. And he, when he is come, will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye behold me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world hath been judged. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth: for he shall not speak from himself; but what things soever he shall hear, these shall he speak: and he shall declare unto you the things that are to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall take of mine, and shall declare it unto you. All things whatsoever the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he taketh of mine, and shall declare it unto you.

Donald Trump is a busy and successful businessman. He has his hands in many pots, so to speak, overseeing a number of different types of businesses. While he focuses heavily on real estate and development, he also has interests in The Miss Universe Organization, a financial group, a business university, and an online travel website. He has stake in restaurants, a magazine, a water company, clothing, golf and numerous other individual products. Donald Trump is a hands on kind of manager, but it is impossible for him to be directly involved in every business all the time.

That’s why he hires people he can trust to act as his advocates. The word advocate has several definitions: from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “one that pleads the cause of another specifically one that pleads the cause of another before a tribunal or judicial court; one that defends or maintains a cause or proposal; one that supports or promotes the interests of another.” I’m sure that Mr. Trump hires lawyers to be his advocate in court, but he also has others that act in his stead on a day to day basis. They support and promote Mr. Trump’s interests.

We can see how this works on the television show “The Apprentice.” Though Mr. Trump is the star of the show, he spends very little time involved in the activities of the players. We see him at the beginning of each show, giving instructions to the contestants and then again in the boardroom at the end. We rarely see him during the challenges, unless there is a VIP party to attend, of course. But Donald Trump can not allow the contestants to be unsupervised. After all, his name is attached to everything they do. So, he always has two helpers who sit alongside him in the boardroom. These helpers check up on the contestants during the challenge and then give Mr. Trump some insight into what really happened in the teams. They have seen the work along the way and know the outcome. They help Mr. Trump make the right decisions.

When I hear the word advocate, I think that it refers to someone who speaks for the underdog. There are those who have no voice in this world, or have voices that can not be heard, who need someone to speak for them: the young, the unborn, the persecuted, the dying. It is good to stand for justice and to help people who can not help themselves. Sometimes that means giving them what they need, but sometimes it does mean being a voice that can be heard for their sake. I never thought about it in terms of advocating for someone strong and powerful.

However, in this passage, Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as an advocate bearing witness for Jesus. Why does Jesus need an advocate? Who is more powerful than Jesus? Who is more able to defeat the wicked and stand against injustice? Who is able to restore and heal and transform the world? There are none more able than Jesus. Yet, He tells us that he’ll send an advocate to be His witness. Even more amazing is that He says that we will also bear witness, be advocates, for Him? What can we possibly do? We can be like Donald Trump’s associates. We can stand up for Jesus, to speak on His behalf. We can tell the world what He has, can and will do. Jesus can’t be everywhere at once. He can’t take care of every minute detail of life of every person in the world. He has, however, sent an advocate, the Holy Spirit, who teaches us how to be advocates for Jesus. With His help, we can stand up not only for Jesus, but as Jesus in this world. We are His voice. We are His hands. We are His witnesses.

Our task as advocates is two-fold. We speak about Jesus, witnessing to the world about the grace and mercy of God. We also act in Jesus’ stead, sharing our resources, time and talents with the underdogs. It is not our task to simply give away everything we have, but to be good stewards of what we have been given. Everything we have is Gods, and He has ‘hired’ us act with Him in the business of the Kingdom. It is not our task to tell others what they should be doing for the underdog. We become advocates because we have been given the Holy Spirit to teach us and lead us in the ways of righteousness. With Him, we are the voice and hands of God, sent into the world to glorify Jesus and giving the world God’s grace that everyone might know Him and be saved.


May 27, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday May 31, 2009: Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

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.

In yesterday’s Gospel lesson, Jesus said that the advocate would come to bring conviction and condemnation. Those who experienced the power of God would be convicted of their sin and transformed into a new creation. Life would be given to those dead bones by the Word of God spoken by the power of God’s Spirit. Those who reject that which is so freely given will be condemned, not as a punishment for rejecting God but because they already stand condemned by their own sin. In the Psalm for this week, a phrase is left out, but is quite appropriate for this idea. The psalmist writes, “Let sinners be consumed out of the earth.” Again, God is not threatening punishment, but in this verse He promises to defeat sin and death and the grave, creating or re-creating His people by His Spirit.

Conviction and condemnation is so powerfully manifest in our lesson for this week. It is Pentecost, the day when the Advocate came to continue the work of Jesus in and with the lives of the disciples. They were the first to receive the gift, but not the last, as God has continued to issue His Spirit to those who hear the Word and believe. They are convicted by the Word and transformed to become the people they are meant to be. The scoffers reject the gift and stand condemned.

Pentecost was the Jewish festival also known as the Feast of Harvest. It was celebrated in the springtime, fifty days after the Passover Sabbath. This was the time in the agricultural year when the first fruits of the season were being harvested. Jews from all over the world were in Jerusalem to worship at the temple to thank God for the abundance of His creation and to give back to Him a portion of the first fruits of their harvest.

Paul tells the Romans that they have the first fruits of the Spirit. He writes also to us. Even two thousand years late, we are still receiving the first fruits because God isn’t done yet. We have received just a glimmer of the promise, a down payment so to speak. There is so much more waiting for us, ours in God’s time and in God’s way. Until that day, we haven’t been given this gift to sit around waiting. Pentecost is just the beginning. It is the first day of God’s Kingdom in action, a call to all those who believe to continue the work of Jesus Christ in the world. We stand between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’. There are still those who look at us, hear our words and scoff.

They might not wonder whether we have been drinking at 9:00 a.m., but they wonder about the fairy tales we tell. They stand condemned because they have rejected the Word of God, but they do not have to remain condemned. Conviction is only a heart beat away for all people, for God desires all to be saved. It is not our task to hit those who do not believe over the head with a Bible, but we are called to share God’s grace and forgiveness with all. There is always hope. We join in the groaning of creation as we wait patiently for God’s plan to be fulfilled. And as we wait, we speak God’s Word into the world, watching as God’s Spirit brings new life to the old and dusty bones of those who are still lost and dead in their sin.

This Sunday we recall that first Pentecost and celebrate the birth of the Church, which is the body of Christ manifest in this world. Ever since that day in Jerusalem, Jesus has continued to give the Holy Spirit to those who believe, so that we too might have the voice to speak and the words so that others might be saved. In the beginning, there was some confusion. Some even thought they were drunk. Things are not much different, for there are many who consider Christians nothing more than silly storytellers. And yet, every day people hear the message that we take into the world and miraculously, some believe. The miracle is not in our ability or in our words, but in the Holy Spirit who gives faith to those who hear with a humble heart.


May 28, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 7, 2008: Holy Trinity: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12=17; John 3:1-7

Isaiah 6:1-8 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he touched my mouth with it, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin forgiven. And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, Here am I; send me.

We are just days away from the last day of school. I know that some school districts have already finished. The kids are anxious for the freedom of summer, to sleep in late and do nothing they do not want to do. For those students who still have a few days, the threat of final exams and last minute projects looms. They are rushing to get all their work done. They are hiding their faces in their books, studying for those last chances to get their grades up for the year. They are praying that they’ll get lucky, that the tests will have questions with answers they will remember and that the essays are on topics they understand.

Most teachers offer some sort of extra credit work, especially for those students who have struggled with the material. Extra credit work is never required but all students are encouraged to participate. Many choose not to do the work. They feel it is a waste of their time because their grades are already good enough or they are so bad a few points won’t make a difference. Why go to all that trouble if it won’t do any good? They don’t realize that the extra credit serves other purposes. They might learn something. They might develop a new discipline that will help them in later projects. Even if there is no other purpose, I can’t tell you the number of times that the extra credit point made a difference in my grades. Even one point can be the difference between an “A” and a “B.”

Many parents nag their kids about the extra credit work, and I suppose I’ve been known to do so, also. It doesn’t make sense to not take advantage of every opportunity. Some parents even force their children into doing the work, insisting that it isn’t ‘extra.’ Again, I’ve probably done the same thing. There comes a time in a child’s life, however, when parents need to back away and let the children make their own decisions. If they decide not to do the extra credit work, or if they decide not to accomplish the regularly assigned work, then they will suffer the consequences.

We don’t like to let go because we are sure that our kids will never learn to do what is right and good. We are afraid that they will not make the right choices. But if we do not give them the opportunity, how will they ever learn. The opportunity means that they will fail once in a while. But they will also succeed. Through failure and success they will learn.

God never forces us to do anything for His kingdom. He has freely given His grace and we have been transformed into the people of God. He calls us to respond in faith to the work He has begun with Jesus Christ, giving us the gifts and resources necessary to do so. But He doesn’t force us to respond.

Imagine this scene: Isaiah finds himself standing in the presence of the Holy One. This must have been a frightening experience. Isaiah believed that no human could stand in the presence of God, and he was a man of unclean lips. He belonged to a people of unclean lips. The sin of God’s people was not limited to the words they spoke, but the words of our mouths indicate the state of our hearts. Isaiah knew that he was a sinner and that the people of God were not worthy of anything He might give. He knew that he was doomed. But he wasn’t doomed. God took care of the concern: the angel burnt off the source of Isaiah’s fear; He cleansed Isaiah’s mouth. God could have ordered Isaiah to do anything, anything at all, and Isaiah would have obeyed.

But God did not command Isaiah to do anything. He simply asked, “Who can I send?” Isaiah could have looked at his feet, hoed and hummed and kept his now pain-filled lips shut. He could have walked away. But the mercy of God is overwhelming and we are drawn into His heart. It is amazing that God would seek the help of a lowly, sinful, human being. Yet, He does. He calls us to be actively involved in His work. He sends us into the world. He charges us with the task of telling the lost and dying about the grace of God. “Who can I send?” Isaiah answers, “Here I am, send me.”

Will there be consequences? We won’t be sent to the flaming gates of hell because we do not volunteer. We are tempted to say “No,” especially since it sometimes seems like the things we do will not make a difference. We are simple people with unclean lips. How could my efforts bring any change to the world? We say “Yes” when we recognize that it is not our effort that brings reconciliation and transformation. But God is Lord Almighty and when He calls we can answer with the assurance that His work will make a difference.


May 29, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 7, 2008: Holy Trinity: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12=17; John 3:1-7

Psalm 29 Ascribe unto Jehovah, O ye sons of the mighty, Ascribe unto Jehovah glory and strength. Ascribe unto Jehovah the glory due unto his name; Worship Jehovah in holy array. The voice of Jehovah is upon the waters: The God of glory thundereth, Even Jehovah upon many waters. The voice of Jehovah is powerful; The voice of Jehovah is full of majesty. The voice of Jehovah breaketh the cedars; Yea, Jehovah breaketh in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild-ox. The voice of Jehovah cleaveth the flames of fire. The voice of Jehovah shaketh the wilderness; Jehovah shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of Jehovah maketh the hinds to calve, And strippeth the forests bare: And in his temple everything saith, Glory. Jehovah sat as King at the Flood; Yea, Jehovah sitteth as King for ever. Jehovah will give strength unto his people; Jehovah will bless his people with peace.

I vividly remember of the Sunday School teachers that taught when our children were young. We were attending church at a military chapel, and this man was an active duty member of the Air Force. He was a tall and well-built man, overwhelming in size and presence. He had a deep, booming voice and demanded the attention of all who were near, not by words or actions but just by being there. He was an imposing being, especially to the smallest children among our congregation. They would look up in awe, as an adult looks up in awe at the Redwoods in California. I was shocked to learn that this man would be the Kindergarten Sunday School teacher because it seemed impossible that he could reach them through his rough and powerful exterior.

But this man had the softest heart. He not only reached the children, he gave them a very solid foundation on which their faith has been built. They say that everything you need to know you learn in Kindergarten, and it might just be true of those children who were blessed to have this man as their Sunday School teacher. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Kindergarteners so calm, and it had nothing to do with fear about his size or strength. They were happy to be in his class and enjoyed listening to him teach.

The words in today’s Psalm reminded me of this man. It made me think of his deep, booming voice that probably rattled the nerves of the airmen under his supervision. That same voice made Kindergarteners feel welcome and gave them the best news any child can hear: you are loved. The psalmist describes God as powerful, majestic, strong, full of might. His voice breaks the cedars and makes the heart of the nations skip a beat. The voice of the Lord strikes like flashes of lightning and rattles the world.

We see that the Lord sits enthroned over history and over the future. He is King over everything past, present and future. This same Lord has the power to bring down giants, to end nations, to turn the universe to dust. Yet, what does this Lord do? He gives strength to His people and blesses His people with peace. He can rattle all creation, but with that same voice He gives us the best news we can hear: we are loved. He is worthy of our awe because He can reduce us to nothing. Yet, we stand in awe not out of fear, but because we have been given a vision of His glory and we can glorify God with our praise and thanksgiving.