Welcome to the May 2022 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes


Topics

Reality

Create

Shepherd

Seeing

Responsibility

Clouds

Glory

All

Shine

Fear

Learn

Debt


A WORD FOR TODAY


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





A WORD FOR TODAY, May 2022





May 2, 2022

“What profit has he who works in that in which he labors? I have seen the burden which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in their hearts, yet so that man can’t find out the work that God has done from the beginning even to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice, and to do good as long as they live. Also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy good in all his labor, is the gift of God. I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; and God has done it, that men should fear before him. That which is has been long ago, and that which is to be has been long ago. God seeks again that which is passed away.” Ecclesiastes 3:9-15, WEB

I spent the weekend at a retreat at a Christian camp in the Hill Country of Texas. It was not a spiritual retreat; it was a chance for creative women to have a place and time to focus on craft projects. We had women who were working on scrapbooking, jewelry, quilts, painting, knitting, and t-shirts. I worked on painting, did some writing, and played with a new camera. Though our purpose was to craft, we also had times of devotion. For each of us, the weekend was a time to get away and to accomplish projects, some of which have been process for years. It is always a time to connect with old friends and to spend time in worship together.

It is also a time to rest. I love the camp where I went on retreat, and I find many excuses to visit throughout the year. I’m sure there are other camps that offer the same opportunity to connect to God, nature, and others, but this is my favorite. There are plenty of hiking trails, a creek and a bluff, wide porches on the cabins with rocking chairs for just soaking in the peace. The staff serves great food, a comfortable experience, and even s’mores if the weather allows.

I spent time on my projects, but I also walked to the creek. I took pictures, and tried the different features, taking pictures of a cross using a bunch of different filters. I also ran into some new friends, a pair of Canadian geese that seem to have decided to hang out by the creek awhile. They did not let me get too close, but I watched them and took a hundred pictures, looking for the perfect composition. They didn’t seem upset by my presence, so we enjoyed the peace together. The creek is lovely, and it so peaceful to just sit there and listen to the wind rustle the trees. It is also a great place to commune with God.

It is amazing what you see and hear when you pay attention. I could hear the water flowing over a dam long before I saw the water. I saw some sort of river grass in the final stages of bloom, ready to cast off its seed. I heard crickets hopping around the field. I found brightly colored wildflowers growing everywhere. I found a plant growing in an old post that had been hollowed by the weather. I heard the birds singing and flitting through the trees, with the new leaves of spring. I captured much of this with my camera.

The camp is in the country, but not far from the sounds of civilization, so sometimes you can hearcars driving down the road that runs along the camp property. I have also heard the sounds of construction in the far distance. It always seems odd to have that kind of sound interrupt the peace of this beautiful place.

We go to these retreats to get away from our everyday, but these moments help us remember that we live in this world even while we are no longer part of this world. I could not see what was making those noises that disturbed my peace, but they were part of my life because I could hear them. The same is true of our Christian lives. The key to dwelling in this paradox of living between two worlds is to trust that God is in the midst of both. I spent my time enjoying this beautiful little corner of the world, but even more so sought the presence of God. It is good for find a place to go because out there at camp we are reminded of the promise of eternity even while we struggle with the reality of our lives in this world.

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May 3, 2022

“God said, ‘Let’s make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them. God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree, which bears fruit yielding seed. It will be your food. To every animal of the earth, and to every bird of the sky, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food;’ and it was so.” Genesis 1:27-31, WEB

I have been attending the craft retreat for many years and have worked on more projects than I can list. I have made new friends and look forward each year to see new ones. The variety of the gifts of these women is astounding. The host always offers a devotional time, to help us focus not only on our gifts, but also on the One who has given us those gifts. Other than that and meal time, we are free to do whatever we want. We all manage to take a nap or read a good book, or sit on the porch watching the wind rustle the trees. The best part is the storytelling.

Some people might think that it is a waste of time to devote a whole weekend to crafting. Few, if any of us, are professionals at our arts. We just like to do these things. There are those who have historically tried to remove the arts from schools, focusing instead on the academic subjects. I don’t know if any of the arts should be made mandatory, especially for older students who have discovered their gifts. However, there is value in the arts, and I think everyone should be exposed to them. My children followed a plan of study in High School that required classes in the fine arts, but they were able to choose what kind of art they wanted to pursue. Their education was enhanced by the addition of the arts in their lives.

Experts will tell you that there are health reasons for pursuing the arts. They also claim that it helps with brain development. The arts are important for communication and imagination. Inventors don’t come up with the things we need without growing up in creative environments. The arts make us think. They confront our biases. They make us stop and consider the value of people, places and things we might not understand. They force us out of our tiny boxes and take us to places we do not expect. Sometimes the arts even lead to incredible accomplishments that seem completely unrelated to the work.

Take, for instance, Alexander Fleming. You might be familiar with his name as the discoverer of Penicillin. The historians will tell you that he discovered it by accident, that something in one of his discarded dishes grew a fungus that he didn’t recognize. After studying it, he realized that he’d grown something that could kill bacteria. It took a cooperative work with other scientists, but Penicillin was eventually developed for use in healing. We all can agree that it was one of the greatest scientific discoveries in human history, the saving many lives.

The real story, however, is that Fleming was an artist as well as a scientist. He was a member of the Chelsea Arts Club and was working in the medium of microbes. He made living art. He pursued new and unknown organisms in his research, constantly searching for new colors he would use in his artwork. The pieces are temporary because the organisms continue to grow and eventually the lines are blurred. His work was not masterful, but it is fascinating. Modern microbial art has become more elaborate. Some artists use photographic negatives; they put organisms on prepared film, let them grow and then develop the negative and print the picture. There are many other techniques. Some of the “paintings” are incredible. In the process, these artist scientists are also making other discoveries about the invisible world that can make a difference to human beings.

There are important things that students must learn in school. Our children do need reading, writing and arithmetic. The struggles of the education system have been magnified over the past few years. Financial issues have made it difficult for decades. We cannot forget, however, that there is value to the arts. God the Creator created creative beings, and it is best to begin laying a foundation for the love of the arts when they are children, because it will build them into adults who are willing to find ways to express themselves creatively. Who knows? They might just be the next Alexander Fleming, making a groundbreaking discovery that will change the world.

You may not have the opportunity to get away for a weekend to do arts and crafts, but there are ways you can be creative today. We were created in the image of a Creator, and so we are creators. You don’t have to make art or music to be creative. It is our calling to glorify God with our gifts, in whatever way we are able, even in our storytelling. So go, be creative today, whether it is with words, or food, or dance, or numbers, or paint, or raising children, or connecting with other folk. Be creative, because God has made you that way.

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May 4, 2022

Scriptures for May 8, 2022, Fourth Sunday of Easter: Acts 20:17-35; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27, WEB

Glencoe (Gleann Comhann in Gaelic) is a beautiful valley in Scotland, with rugged hills and rocky cliffs where hikers and climbers love to visit. It is a challenging place even for the most experienced adventures. Though Glencoe is known for its rough beauty, it is more well known for its history. In the year 1692, government troops tried to massacre and entire clan of people.

The chief of the MacDonald Clan was late in making a vow of loyalty to the king of England. The men in charge were glad to have an excuse to be rid of those people. The betrayal was incredible. The government troops moved into the homes of the MacDonalds and enjoyed their hospitality for ten days. Then one bitter winter morning, the order was given to slaughter the entire population of Glencoe. Most managed to escape, thanks to the warnings of the troops. Only 38 people were killed that day, including children and elderly. Some also died in the harsh weather. Those who survived returned to Glencoe to restart their lives, however the place was never the same.

The name Glencoe most likely means “narrow valley”, but it has come to be known as “valley of sorrows” or “valley of weeping.” It has even been referred to as “the valley of the shadow of death.” Glencoe is a place of beauty, but the pain of death lingers on in our minds as we remember the massacre of 1692. It is equally impossible to walk through this life without being reminded of the pain of sin and death, especially when we hear the daily news stories of violence and hatred all over the world. As we face these valleys in our life, we are reminded in the words of this psalm that God is with us, He loves us, and we have nothing to fear in this life. Life does go on, even in the most desolate places.

Those desolate places are different for everyone. For some, it is the grief they are experiencing over hearing about the horrific death of a friend. For another it is in the news recently received from the doctor of an illness. Some are suffering with questions about the future and their financial well-being. Others are facing separation from loved ones as they begin new phases of their life. Our desolate places might not seem so horrible to someone else, but for us they are the places where we deal with our fear and our expectations.

It was not very long ago that palms were an important part of our worship experience. On Palm Sunday we gathered and processed with palms as they had done on the day Jesus entered Jerusalem. The Romans would have understood this to be a victory parade, since palms were used to reward returning heroes and the champions of the games. The Jews were also known to carry palms at festive times. As a matter of fact, palms played an important role in the Feast of Tabernacles; as the people waved palm branches as they presented their offerings in thanksgiving to God, rejoicing over His blessings.

The palm branch means many other things. In Judaism, the palm is a symbol of peace and plenty and the Tree of Life. The Muslims believe that Mohammed built his house out of palm branches and is therefore considered a symbol of hospitality. To the ancients, palms were a symbol of the connection between heaven and earth and were also a symbol of longevity. In Egypt at the thirtieth year of a Pharaoh’s reign, the Pharaoh was given a handful of palm branches to hold. The marks on the midrib indicated the number of years the Pharaoh would continue to rule.

The midrib of the palm was strong enough to be used as a walking stick. Saint Christopher is the patron saint of travelers, and though there is little verifiable information about him he was said to have been a very large man, like a giant and that he worked shuttling people across a bridgeless river by carrying them. There is a legend that one of the people he carried across was a child, who was a much heavier burden than he expected. It was the palm branch he was carrying that helped him stand through it. When he arrived at the other side of the river, the child told him to put the stick into the ground and it suddenly became a beautiful palm tree. The child was the Christ child, and His weight was due to the great burden of the entire world He carried. This miracle was a catalyst to Christopher’s conversion to Christianity.

Today’s passage from Revelation describes Jesus as the Lamb of God whose blood sets us free. In this vision of heavenly worship, a great multitude from every nation and tongue are standing before the throne of God in white. They are waving palms, just as been done in religious ceremony for generations. The symbolism can mean many things: God’s victory, His hospitality, His peace and strength. It can represent the joy of the multitude and their thanksgiving for God’s blessings.

The white of their robes does not come from their own righteousness; they have washed them in the blood of the Lamb. They cry out, “Salvation be to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” They sing praise and thanksgiving to God for to Him belongs the blessing and honor and glory for ever and ever.

The Lamb is the Good Shepherd who will guide His people to the springs of the water of life. They will no longer hunger and thirst; they will not mourn as God wipes the tears from their eyes. This is such a vision of hope and promise; that God is with us. In the legend about Christopher, when they arrived at the other side Christopher berated the child for nearly killing him. “Had I borne the whole world on my back,” he said, “it could not have weighed heavier than thou!” “Marvel not!” the child replied, “for thou host borne upon thy back the world and him who created it!” We are reminded that it is not by our power that we are saved, but by God’s grace. Though Christopher carried the child, it was only by the strength of God that He was able to make it to the other side. And so it is with all those who will be standing at the throne of God praising Him; it is by His grace that we will wave those palms and proclaim thanksgiving for His blessings.

We all get a little nostalgic for the world as we remember it as children. I remember having the freedom to just go outside to play, running all over the neighborhood with my friends. I never told my mother where I was going to be every second of the day; it would be impossible because we were constantly jumping from one house to another, from one pool to another. We went to the woods behind our street. Or we ended up at the ball field a few blocks away. Or we walked to the store to buy candy. here was even an arcade just around the corner. We didn’t know where we would end up; we just went. It would have taken too much time to go home with every change to let Mom know where I was going to be. We didn’t wear watches. We didn’t worry.

Mom yelled out the door when it was time to go home. I was usually within hearing distance, but not always. Sometimes I was in a friend’s house or just beyond the sound of her voice. She would yell until I went home. She didn’t worry about me, but she was often annoyed when she could not find me immediately. I wish I could have given my children the same sort of freedom, but the world seems so dangerous these days. I can remember my reaction whenever I would hear my mother’s voice calling to me to come home. I was usually disappointed because I was having too much fun with my friends to stop playing, and I confess to having selective hearing occasionally. I wasn’t so patient as a mother; I worried if one of my children took so long to come home when I called. There are so many voices calling our kids and they all too often hear what they want to hear.

Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Festival of Dedication; He was the presence of God incarnate in the flesh of man. He was the light of the world and He told them so. He spoke with authority and performed miraculous deeds of healing and forgiveness. Yet, there were those who did not recognize Him. “Tell us plainly,” they said. Jesus answered, “I have told you.” They did not recognize His voice. When He called, they did not hear.

His sheep are those who hear, but hearing is not a passive verb in the scriptures. Hearing is doing, it is acting, it is following, it is obeying. Those who have children are quite familiar with selective hearing. Kids hear what they want to hear. I am sure I had selective hearing when I was a child. There were times when my mom called me more times than necessary because I did not hear. The last thing a child wants to hear on a pleasant summer evening is Mom’s voice calling them to go home. Perhaps they hear it with their ears, but they don’t hear it with their mind or their body. They don’t respond.

Jesus clearly declared with word and deed the truth of His identity and purpose. He was the Good Shepherd. He was the Light. He was the presence of God they so desperately were seeking in their oppression, and they did not hear because He was not the Messiah they wanted or expected. He could not be a king; He could not deliver them from their enemy. His teachings were different than the teachings of the religious leaders. They did not want to hear because they had rejected Him, they ignored His voice. They were not His and it was not because Jesus rejected them. They rejected Him.

Paul never shrank from doing the work God called him to do, even when it was difficult work. I suppose in some ways God didn’t give him much choice. After all, he was called in the most unusual fashion, with a vision that was beyond description and beyond rejection. Can you say “No” to God when He comes to you in such an intense and real way?

In today’s passage, Paul told the elders of Ephesus that despite his love for them and for the work he was doing among them, he had to go to Jerusalem. It was not going to be a pleasure trip: the Spirit was clear that Paul would face imprisonment and afflictions. He wasn’t concerned. He knew that everything he experienced was under the control of God.

We often talk about Paul’s arrogance, if that’s the right word for it, but Paul was really a very humble and obedient man. He said, “But these things don’t count; nor do I hold my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to fully testify to the Good News of the grace of God.” His flesh didn’t matter to him; the ministry did. If scourging or martyrdom would spread the Gospel of Christ and glorify God, then he was willing to go through it.

Though he knew he did not have a choice but to go to Jerusalem, Paul was concerned for the people of Ephesus. He knew he would never see them again, and he knew that their future would be full of similar difficulties. Paul was talking to the leaders of the Ephesian church, those who had been given the responsibility to take care of the flock. They were the shepherds, God’s helpers. But the duty of those leaders was to be the voice of Christ, to speak His Word to the people and to keep them safe from those who would come to twist the scriptures to their benefit.

The Church was bought by a heavy price: the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. He took the life of His people very seriously. He is concerned that they stay on the right path, that they live as He has called them to live. If we think about the history of God’s people, we can see that it isn’t as easy to live according to God’s Word as we want it to be. After all, generations of people have come before us. It only took a few generations for the people to turn away from God and follow the ways of the world. Though there were faithful judges and kings to shepherd the people, their sons often turned to other gods. It took catastrophic events to bring God’s people to their knees so that they might seek His grace and return to Him. And then they’d be faithful for a generation or two, quickly forgetting all that He’d done for them.

We might think that because we live under the grace of God that we will be more faithful than those previous generations, but we face the same temptations. We can be led astray by the expectations of the world and the ways of those who have selfish or self-righteous ambitions. The fierce wolves about which Paul warned the Ephesian elders were men who would try to twist the Gospel and lead people astray.

Paul may have been talking to a specific group of Christians, but it is a warning for us all. It does not take long for a false gospel to sound right, especially when it tickles the ears of those listening. We can see examples of this in the church today. Leaders get rich selling a gospel that is far from the one Jesus taught. Some churches ignore the reality that we are sinners in need of a Savior and teach that God came so that we might have everything we want. Others put the emphasis on our good works. Many of these leaders seek fame or a following and will do whatever is necessary to get it. They create division in the church to ensure that they will keep their position and power. They are no different than the leaders in Jesus’ day that killed him for their own sake.

But the leaders of God’s church are meant to be like Paul: humble, obedient and unafraid. He spoke the truth with passion, despite the reality that it would get him killed. Are any of us willing to do the same? Are we willing to tell those wolves that they are wrong? Are we willing to go against the expectations of the world and do God’s will over those of men? As leaders of today’s church, we must be shepherds that protect the flock from the wolves. We must be Christ-like, doing His work as God intends.

Our scriptures this week talk about the life of a Christian who has followed Christ’s voice. Peter willingly went into the presence of a dead woman, prayed for her and God blessed his faith with a resurrection that brought joy to the community of faith. John, exiled on Patmos, wrote about a vision of heaven that was not like last week’s image of an inner sanctum separated from the world. In this week’s vision, a great multitude, more than anyone could count, from every nation praised God with palm branches in their hands. In this vision, very earthly cares like hunger and thirst, pain and suffering are no longer concerns for God’s people for the Lamb in the Shepherd and He will lead them to living water and wipe away their tears.

This image of God as the Good Shepherd is a comforting image for most people. Though we do not know what it is like to be a shepherd, we do know that the shepherd loves his sheep so much that he takes care of their every need. He protects them from danger, ensures that they are fed and leads them to the best food. We see those images in the Psalm for today, along with some other aspects of the life of sheep and shepherds. Sometimes we do not consider the importance of those other things, since water, food and shelter are so vital to our existence.

Yet, the Good Shepherd provides all the needs of his sheep. He makes the sheep lie down. How many of us could use someone to tell us to go to rest, especially when we get ourselves caught up in so many activities? He leads the sheep beside still waters. Our hectic lives are often chaotic like the churning waters of a fast-running river. We need someone who will make us slow down, walk carefully along a better path, a safer path. He leads the sheep in right paths; He helps us to make the right decisions, to do the right things according to His Word. The most comforting thing about this Psalm is the reminder that God is with us. He is with the sheep.

That’s the key message for this week: God is present among His people, His sheep. He is there doing miraculous things, and yet He is doing them in ordinary ways with ordinary people. And He calls us to do the same among His people. We are tempted to offer so many activities that we are constantly busy, but perhaps we should be encouraging one another to practice a Sabbath rest. We are tempted to go our own way, but we are called to follow a very narrow path. We are called to be God’s presence among the people and in the world, and to do so demands a faithfulness that is extraordinary. We cannot go our own way.

Jesus who is the Lamb and the Good Shepherd was at the Temple for the Feast of Dedication. The people wanted to know: are you who we think you are? “How long will you hold us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” They, like all of us, wanted it spelled out in easy-to-understand language. Jesus was the Messiah, but they couldn’t see it because they were looking for someone to do it their way. They couldn’t understand how the Messiah could really accomplish anything if He failed to live. They didn’t understand that God’s work was not to conform to the world, but to overcome the world. Suffering and death don’t fit when we are looking for prosperity and success.

Jesus was concerned about life, true life. We might want this life to be filled with the fulfillment of all our wishes and dreams; we want to be satisfied. But that’s not why Jesus came. He didn’t come to make life easy or to give in to all our whims. He didn’t come to make our foolishness acceptable to God. He came to restore us to Him, to overcome sin and death and to provide us with a new life. That life is meant to be lived under the care of God, following His path, doing His work. That means giving up the world. That means being a sheep, but not the kind of sheep that follows every voice. His voice is the only one that will lead us down the right path.

His voice is hard to hear in the cacophony of noises that we hear every day. Every generation faces it, but I think it might be even harder for us. We can’t go to the market without being inundated with temptations. We even carry it with us, on our phones and tablets. Everything is acceptable and embraced in our entertainment. Faith is ridiculed as something that is a way for people to blind themselves to the reality of life. God is a myth. Jesus is just another prophet or teacher. The Church is filled with hypocrites and sinners. Of course, they are right about that last one, but what we don’t see is that God embraces those who hear His voice, and He gives them forgiveness and life. Yes, we fail, but Jesus died so that we might be forgiven. Yes, we wander away, chasing after our own wishes and dreams, but Jesus the Good Shepherd calls our names and draws us back into His presence. Those who do not believe do not hear His voice. They aren’t sheep, they are of this world. And while it is up to us to share the Gospel with them, we must never allow ourselves to be conformed to the world. When the wolves come, we must be sure to remember the true Gospel, not follow the false gospels that lead us astray.

One of the hardest words of Jesus for us to understand is in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus says, “I told you, and you don’t believe.” I think this is hard for us to understand for two reasons. First, I’m not sure I have found anywhere in the scriptures where Jesus tells us plainly that He is really the Messiah. He says many things that lead us to believe in Him and know that He is indeed the Messiah, but plainly? The other thing that bothers me is that they do not believe because they are not Jesus’ sheep. Doesn’t God love all His creation? Doesn’t He promise His grace to all? How can there be sheep that do not belong to Him?

His sheep are those who hear, but hearing is not a passive verb. Hearing is doing, it is acting, it is following, it is obeying. Paul heard and he believed. He went out and began preaching the message of the Gospel to all who would hear. The Jews heard, but they did not believe. They demanded proof. They wanted to see Jesus do and say what they expected from the Messiah, but Jesus didn’t fit their mold. He refused to conform to their expectations because God had already proven Him to be who He said He was. Jesus’ authority and power were established in the signs (especially in John’s Gospel) and in the words He spoke. Saying “I am the Messiah” would not change their hearts.

Paul knew the truth: it is all about God. He is the shepherd. He is the healer. He is the Savior. Are we ready to be His sheep, to follow Him wherever He leads? Our story might not be as extraordinary as Paul’s, but we are called to do the same thing: to speak the truth, share the Gospel and live faithfully in this world. We might even be called to die. But whether at the hands of nature or man, death will bring one thing: the eternal life God has promised us.

Do not fear, for the Good Shepherd is near. Hear and believe. Go and speak and do as He has commanded. Who knows? Perhaps God has chosen you to be the vessel through which He will guard and protect and provide His sheep with everything they need. Or you might be the one to help them join the fold. Then we will spend eternity together singing God’s praise and thanksgiving at the foot of His throne.

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May 5, 2022

“Beware, brothers, lest perhaps there might be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God; but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called “today”, lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence firm to the end.” Hebrews 3:12-14, WEB

It is surprising to look at our faces in photos because the photo captures us differently than we see ourselves. I have a mole on my face that has been there for as long as I can remember. The mole is on the right cheek and I know that. However, when I look at myself in the mirror, that mole appears to be on the left. I know that the mirror gives me a reflection and that physically it is still on my right cheek, but I see myself in the mirror as if I were looking at another person. When I look at the photo of myself, I am taken aback because the mole appeared to be on the wrong side.

No one’s face is absolutely symmetrical; most of the differences are insignificant making it hard to notice. If you split your face in half, then put a flip of the right with the right side and a flip of the left with the left side, you will see two completely different faces. So, it is not surprising that the face I see in the mirror is different than the face others see when they look at me.

We don’t see the same thing as our neighbor. This seems like a superficial topic for a devotional because I’m talking about appearances, and yet I think the same is true when it comes to other aspects of our being. We see ourselves from inside and other see ourselves from the outside. We know what we think and what we feel. We know ourselves from the perspective of our experiences, good and bad. Others may think they know us and that they can read what we are feeling and thinking, but they can’t. They might interpret a facial expression as sadness or fatigue when it is really just a contemplative moment. I once had a battle with a friend over words said, interpreted to be sarcastic when they were meant to be helpful.

Though others might not see us the way we see ourselves, we should not ignore or reject their impressions because they might just see something we are missing. We are not meant to be islands, but to be part of a community. That community will see us from a different point of view, but that can be helpful. They can help us because we can be blinded by our biases and our emotions. If we are angry, we can’t see beyond the anger. If we are afraid, we can’t see beyond that fear. Though we do know ourselves better than our neighbors, we should listen to what they have to say because it might make a difference.

When we do hear advice from others, we might automatically assume that they don’t know anything about us or the situation, so we think that the advice is meaningless. But we should remember that they see us differently than we see ourselves, so what they see might warrant the help they want to offer. We can encourage one another to live as we are meant to live, to be all that we are meant to be, to love God as we were created to love.

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May 6, 2022

“For you, brothers, were called for freedom. Only don’t use your freedom for gain to the flesh, but through love be servants to one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, be careful that you don’t consume one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, that you may not do the things that you desire. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Galatians 5:13-18, WEB

There is a bridge on the frontage road of a major highway. The bridge is large enough for two lanes of traffic, but there is no shoulder along the side. For the safety of pedestrians, the bridge has walking pathways protected by large concrete barriers.

A man was walking on the bridge, destination unknown. It was unusual because he was on the bridge, not the safe walkway. It was possible for the cars to go around the man, but there was nothing safe or reasonable about the man’s actions. He didn’t belong on that part of the road for his own sake and for the sake of others. A car could come too fast or he could cause an accident because there wasn’t room for oncoming cars and him. He could have just as easily, more easily in fact, walked on the part of the bridge meant for pedestrians. He had to step out of the pathway on which he was walking to get around the concrete barriers onto the road. It didn’t make sense. Why would anyone willingly put themselves and others at risk for no good reason?

We can’t judge what was going on, but I wonder if he was even aware of how inconsiderate and dangerous he was acting. Was he too deep in thought to see where he was walking? Did he want to inconvenience the drivers along the road? Did he think walking on the blacktop was better than walking on the concrete, even though they were part of the very same bridge? Was he more afraid of the railing on the side of the pathway than the speeding cars on the road?

I’m not sure if the man broke any laws, although I suspect that a police officer would have stopped to encourage him to walk on the pathway the next time. There have been too many stories of pedestrians who have been hit by cars because they have taken foolish chances. It frightens me every time I see someone running across the highway. It is like playing Frogger, but with real lives. I wonder how often we make similar choices when it comes to our lives of faith.

We know can’t do what is right with our own strength and ability, but we also know that we are forgiven when we fail. Many Christians use this as an excuse to ignore or reject the law completely for this very reason. We fail and are forgiven. If we rely too heavily on our own perfection, we’ll be seriously disappointed. Even Paul, who was a great and righteous man, recognized his own inability to obey the law completely. And as the scriptures tell us, if we fail at the smallest thing, we have failed it all.

But that doesn’t mean we should run around willy-nilly. Though the Law is given so that we might see in it the truth of our unrighteousness, the rules serve a purpose. Paul calls our attention to the most important law, that which honors and respects our neighbors enough to avoid doing things that might cause them to sin against God. When we choose to disobey the laws, we do so because we are being self-centered or self-obsessed. There is no good reason for it. We do what we want because we want to, even if it might be harmful for others. Though we don’t need to follow the rules to be saved, our faith is given so that we will live as God has created and redeemed us to live. This means that though we have the freedom to do what we want, we have the responsibility to do what is right.

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May 9, 2022

“Praise Yah, for it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant and fitting to praise him. Yahweh builds up Jerusalem. He gathers together the outcasts of Israel. He heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds. He counts the number of the stars. He calls them all by their names. Great is our Lord, and mighty in power. His understanding is infinite. Yahweh upholds the humble. He brings the wicked down to the ground. Sing to Yahweh with thanksgiving. Sing praises on the harp to our God, who covers the sky with clouds, who prepares rain for the earth, who makes grass grow on the mountains.” Psalm 147:1-8, WEB

I visited an art exhibit that was focused on artists who paint the sky. The exhibit had dozens of paintings made with all sorts of materials. Each artist was unique in the way they viewed the sky, but one thing that was common among at least most of them: they saw the hand of God in the heavens. The exhibit is called “The Heavens Declare,” and it was obvious from many of the titles that the artists saw the heavens declaring the glory of God.

I followed an artist on Facebook who lives in the wilds west of Texas. His property is extensive so there is nothing to block his view of sunsets and sunrises. He posted photos almost daily of the beauty he saw. You would think that it would get boring after a while, after all, how many sunsets can you photograph? The thing is, every sunset and sunrise is different. The sky is constantly changing and is never the same. The clouds are new every moment as they move and the light changes.

Clouds are fascinating for that very reason. We know that when we look at the sky it will never be the same. We look for figures in the fluffy white clouds, and we search for the rainbows that appear after the rain. We are amazed when the clouds cut through the colors of a sunset. Those who are in drought look to the clouds for relief and those who are experiencing flood pray for the clouds to go away. No matter what we see in the sky, whether clouds or sunsets or rainbows, we can praise God that He is so involved with His creation that every moment is new.

I confess that there are times I wish everything would stay the same. There is comfort in consistency. There is security in a lack of change. The Bible tells us that God does not change, but we live in a world that is constantly changing. We are comforted by the fact that the unchanging God is with us, and He is glorified by what we see in the sky. The clouds promise rain even if we do not know when it will come. Though the sunset leads to darkness, the sunrise promises a brand-new day. The sky reminds us to praise God because it is His hand that paints the heavens, and in the glory of the skies we can see His presence in the midst of our lives.

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May 10, 2022

“Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, for he has looked at the humble state of his servant. For behold, from now on, all generations will call me blessed. For he who is mighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name. His mercy is for generations and generations on those who fear him. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down princes from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things. He has sent the rich away empty. He has given help to Israel, his servant, that he might remember mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever.’” Luke 1:46-55, WEB

One of my favorite scriptures is from the book of Revelation. It is the passage from chapter four that shows what worship is like in heaven. John describes the throne room of God, a description of something so wonderful that we cannot even imagine the beauty and splendor. John’s words give us a taste of the glory we will see one day, the one on the throne “...that looked like a jasper stone and a sardius. There was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald to look at.”

We think of God’s glory as something like a bright light, something so shiny and magnificent that we cannot even look at it with our own eyes. The scriptures often tell us that death comes to those who see God face to face, for His glory is too much for us to see. When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God put him in the cleft of a rock and covered him with His hand until He passed by, then Moses could see God’s back, but His face could not be seen. Martin Luther said, “We only see the glory of God from behind, in hindsight, for what He has done.”

God’s glory is not just found in this incredible scene of worship in heaven; it is not only a bright light like rainbows or jewels. That vision is something that we look forward to, but we will have to wait until we finish our journey of faith in this life. But we are able to see God’s glory today. We see it like Moses did, we see His back as He passes by, catching just a glimpse of the glory through what He has done. We see God’s glory in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. We see God’s glory in the testimony of the witnesses provided through the scriptures and the Christian community throughout all the ages.

Mary glorified the Lord with this song of praise and thanksgiving. She sang this when she had learned she was to be the mother of her Savior. This young girl saw God’s glory in His faithfulness, mercy and grace. She saw it in the way He lifted the humble and put the mighty in their place. She saw it in the way He kept His promises. Though she had not seen an incredible vision of heaven, she was chosen to play a role and be a witness to the incarnation of God! Her soul glorified God by bearing witness to His works.

How I long for the day when I will see heaven as John saw and recorded it in Revelation. Yet, I am amazed at what God has shown to His people in this age: His love that we can see in the life of our Lord Jesus. We can look forward to the day when we will live in His presence and will stand face to face with the Lord God Almighty. For today we can worship God as Mary did, by living lives of thanksgiving and praising Him for His marvelous works!

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May 11, 2022

Scriptures for May 15, 2022, Fifth Sunday of Easter: Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-7; John 16:12-22

“When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life!’” Acts 11:18, WEB

My children are long grown and independent; my daughter even bought her first house recently. It doesn’t stop me from worrying about them, of course, since I am a mother, but I don’t have to devote my time to their care as I did when they were young. It makes it easy for me to get away on retreat as I did last week. My husband misses me, but he’s able to take care of himself. I sometimes wonder when I go to these retreats from what I am getting away, but really those retreats have become a chance to get away to something for my well-being.

I have some friends that attend those retreats who are still in the phase of life when children are their major focus. Two women who attended the craft retreat are preparing for high school graduations. They are so busy with all the end of year activities that they weren’t even sure they could get away. They did and used their time to make a book of pictures for their girls who have been friends since they were born. They were glad to have the time and freedom to work on the project, but they were also glad to get away from the hustle and bustle their life has become.

I have reminded them that this will pass. The day will come when they will be free like me, but I also cautioned them not to rush it. I enjoy my life, but I miss my kids. I’m not sure that my kids realize even now how much a part of my life they were. I confess that there were times when I looked forward to them becoming adults. We think it will get easier as they grow, but they needed me as much as teenagers as they did when they were younger. They even need me now, in different ways. Jesus said, “A woman, when she gives birth, has sorrow because her time has come. But when she has delivered the child, she doesn’t remember the anguish any more, for the joy that a human being is born into the world.” I think we go through the same sorrow and joy as we deal with the anguish and contentment of each phase of our children’s lives.

When we are young, we rarely see what our mothers really do to make our lives better. Too often we notice only those moments when she makes us clean our rooms or eat our brussels sprouts. We remember when she said that we could not have the brand-new toy or the clothes that were in fashion. We did not notice that she never bought a new outfit for herself because the money went to school supplies and after school activities. We forget the hundreds of miles a week she drove and the hours she watched our sports events. We missed the look of pride on her face when we received an award at school or when we accomplished our goals.

It is often said that mothers sacrifice a great deal to raise a family, especially her sense of self. I once had the opportunity to have several conversations with mothers of young children. Those mothers enjoyed these conversations not only because they were able to communicate with adults about adult things, but they also enjoyed knowing that the day will come when they will be able to have a life again. I suppose that is why some women do not want to have children. They do not want to have to sacrifice so much for another person. Yet, even though a mother’s love is often seen as sacrificial, the reality is that the best mothers are those who continue to retain their sense of self through those years.

Sacrificial love does not mean giving up ourselves. After all, we are created by God with individual gifts and personalities. We are who God made us to be, and if we give that up totally for another, we lose what God intends for our lives. Jesus had a sacrificial love for us, willingly doing what was necessary for our faith and salvation. We think we have to give up everything of ourselves to be like Jesus who died for our sake, but that was His purpose. It was by His death God was glorified because Jesus was obedient to God’s will. It is odd for us to see glory in death, and yet that is exactly where the glory of God can be found: in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus told His disciples that they could not follow Him where He was going, though many were martyred in His name. Still, each one remained an individual with his own unique personality and gifts.

They could not go with Him at that moment, for Jesus had to complete the work of the cross before they could go on to do the work of the kingdom in this world. He left them with one thing: each other. It seems odd that He would call loving one another something new, since God always intended His people to love. Yet, this new love is something different. It is not an emotional love; it is an active love. It is a love which glorifies God by being visibly manifest in the lives of His people. It is like a mother’s love, a love that does not sacrifice self for the sake of others but in keeping a sense of self has something very special to offer to her children and the world.

It isn’t easy. We struggle with every obstacle we faced with our children. But that’s life, isn’t it? That’s certainly the Christian life; we are constantly overcoming obstacles. It began at the cross where Jesus overcame sin and death, our greatest obstacles. Jesus also teaches us about overcoming other obstacles we face like fear, biases, hatred, doubt, hunger, loneliness, imprisonment, thirst, and despair. Many Christian writings, both canonical and the writings of Christians throughout the ages, focus on overcoming our difficulties.

Things were not much different in John’s day; the gods the people worshipped were different from ours. We have “work”, “money”, “leisure.” Though the Hellenistic culture in which John lived was in many ways similar to our own, they had a list of gods which they honored with temples, pilgrimages and religious rituals. The Christians had to overcome people’s reliance on those gods while drawing them into the heart of the One true and living God. In the story of Paul in Athens, we see how Paul used their superstitious beliefs to introduce them to Jesus. They had an altar which had no name but was meant to cover any god they may have forgotten. Paul described the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who was incarnated as Jesus Christ and told them that this God they did not know was the only God they needed.

The Jews had what we might consider an irrational fear of the sea. That fear might have come from the ancient creation stories in which the gods were brought forth out of the sea. Tiamat was like a dragon but was the goddess of chaos and salt water. She was the mother of all the Babylonian gods and dragons. It is no wonder, then, that the Jewish readers of John’s Revelation would find comfort in the end of the sea. To the Jews and early Christians, the disappearance of the sea represented the disappearance of all those other gods who were such a large obstacle for them to overcome. Since religious devotion was often directly connected to all aspects of society, living in a world worshipping One God verses the many gods, brought about persecution. Without the sea, without the chaos, without those gods, the world would be a much better place for the Christians. It seems insignificant to us, even unwarranted since the sea is such an important part of our world. But to them, the sea represented the worst of their problems and when everything is made new by God’s grace, then there would be nothing left to fear.

We have nothing to fear, but we do fear things in our world anyway. The threats of war, violence, disease, and loss constantly hang over our heads; similar threats have affected people of every generation. Sometimes it seems like we have overcome those things, but then a new generation comes along and returns to the old ways. Reading through the Old Testament is like watching reruns. Over and over again an era began with a good king, but his son and his son’s son turned away from the Lord until finally there was a king that was so bad that God lost patience. The reign of that king ended with a new king who had a heart for God. As the teacher in Ecclesiastes says, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Racism, sadly, is one of those things that seems to rear its ugly head over and over again. There have been moments of hope, but then moments when society seems to turn back to the old ways. One of those moments of hope happened fifteen years ago in Ashburn, Georgia. A group of high school seniors fought to do something new. The tradition at their school for as long as anyone could remember was to have segregated proms. The students never saw this as a racial issue, it was simply that separate parties were planned by the parents for the black students and the white students. The senior class president had a dream, so the students planned their own prom, with the blessing of school officials. The students were given permission to use the school for their prom. It was controversial and some did not participate. For those who did, it was a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, fifteen years later it seems some people want to revert back to segregated communities.

This prom was not about integration, after all the schools in Ashburn have been integrated for a long time. The school was equally divided between black and white students who went to class and participated in other activities together. The prom was about table fellowship, having a social experience together rather than gathering separately. If only we could all find the grace to gather with those who are different than us as they did.

The Jewish community of Jesus’ time had strict rules about their socialization. The apostles lived according to those rules, even refusing to fellowship with those who were not circumcised. One day Peter had a vision from God. In the chapter before today’s lesson from Acts, Peter rejected an invitation from a man named Cornelius until God showed him a better way. As the three men from Caesarea approached, Peter was on his roof praying. He became hungry and he fell into a trance while the meal was being prepared. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat!” Peter was upset by this command, because the food before him was unclean according to the Law. God said, “What God has cleansed, you must not call unclean.” This vision happened repeatedly, to ensure that what Peter heard was the truth. When the vision ended, the men from Caesarea arrived and asked Peter to go with them.

Peter did not hesitate. He told Cornelius it was against his law for him to be there but asked why he had been called. Cornelius shared the story of the angel and Peter understood that the vision was not only about food but also about people. So, Peter stayed with Cornelius and shared the Good News with his whole household. They believed and the Holy Spirit came upon them. The circumcised Jews who had come with Peter were amazed that God would pour out His Spirit on gentiles, but they heard them praising God in other tongues, a Pentecost for God’s new people.

After this visit, Peter returned to Jerusalem to tell them about God’s grace to the Gentiles. Unfortunately, they did not believe that the Gentiles should be accepted into their community without change. The Gentiles were, for a time, expected to convert to Judaism before they could become Christian. Peter realized that that God’s grace was not dependent on human expectations. God could bless anyone. Those who have been saved by the Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit are part of the same fellowship and are welcome at the table based on God’s grace.

In these stories from Acts, God overcame the biggest obstacles for His people in that age. He continues to work with us, encouraging us by His Word to set aside our own fear, biases, hatred, doubt, hunger, loneliness, imprisonment, thirst, and despair to dwell in harmony with all those who have been saved by His grace, whoever they are.

Science Fiction fans are familiar with the concept of time travel. I have been reading a series of books about a world much like ours but different where time travel is possible. There is an organization called St. Mary’s that uses time travel to better understand history. They don’t call it time travel, however; they insist that they “conduct investigations of major historical events in contemporary time.”

There are certain rules they have to follow because bouncing around the timeline can cause all sorts of problems. Every little change in the past can affect the future. Time Police exist to keep things moving in the right direction, and they are constantly chasing after St. Mary’s, whose assignments never quite go according to plan. In the end they manage to make everything right, but not without some exciting adventures along the way.

Time travel is important in movies like “Back to the Future” and books like the “Outlanders” series. The method of time travel is different for each, sometimes it is a state of mind, sometimes it is a strange machine and sometimes it is a glitch in the fabric of the earth. Time travel is always a two way street in the stories. Science is constantly changing, and scientists have made some discoveries about time and travel. It is complicated, but as far as I know, time travel is not really possible. That’s why it is the subject of Sci-Fi movies and books. As we’ve seen with many of the impossible things in science fiction, however, perhaps one day time travel will be real.

Clifford Pickover wrote, “Most cultures have a grammar with past and future tenses, and also demarcations like seconds and minutes, and yesterday and tomorrow. Yet we cannot say exactly what time is. Although the study of time became scientific during the time of Galileo and Newton, a comprehensive explanation was given only in this century by Einstein, who declared, in effect, time is simply what a clock reads. The clock can be the rotation of a planet, sand falling in an hourglass, a heartbeat, or vibrations of a cesium atom. A typical grandfather clock follows the simple Newtonian law that states that the velocity of a body not subject to external forces remains constant. This means that clock hands travel equal distances in equal times. While this kind of clock is useful for everyday life, modern science finds that time can be warped in various ways, like clay in the hands of a cosmic sculptor.

“The line between science and mysticism sometimes grows thin. Today physicists would agree that time is one of the strangest properties of our universe. In fact, there is a story circulating among scientists of an immigrant to America who lost his watch. He walked up to a man on a New York street and asked, ‘Please, Sir, what is time?’ The scientist replied, ‘I'm sorry, you’ll have to ask a philosopher. I’m just a physicist.’” Scientists like Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan spent much of their careers seeking to better understand time. It was much simpler when we could keep the concept of time locked in a box, or a watch, or a clock.

We try to keep God locked in a box. As we look back to the beginning of creation, we see that what God created He called good. The earth, the heavens, the plant and animal life, the man and the woman are spoken into life by God, and He said, “It is good.” When sin entered the world, everything became corrupt and perishable, ravished by time. In his sin, mankind tried to confine God to make Him suit their needs with idols, locking God behind the doors of their hearts and their temples so that He could not disrupt their plans.

But God can’t be locked in a box. He is not limited by time or space because He is outside time and space. He is bigger than anything we can create. God is not hidden behind a curtain or held by our ideology and biases. That’s what Peter learned in the vision and encounter with Cornelius. He learned that God’s grace is available to all those who hear, not just for those who exist in a specific period, place, or culture. He took that news to Jerusalem and opened for them a whole new world: God’s love extended to people from all nations. This new world is made visible in the love of Christians for one another, the love which Jesus Christ commanded for His disciples. It is in that love - not a feeling but an active love between brothers and sisters = that God is glorified in this world, and He is manifest for all to see.

The question of time is not the only one asked by science fiction writers. Human beings have long asked, “Is there life out there?” We have wondered whether or not there are any planets anywhere else in the universe that might have some form of created beings. As our scientific technology advances, we’ve been able to make strides in finding information about the worlds far from earth. They have even found evidence of water on Mars. This was an amazing discovery, and many have suggested that this means that Mars has the potential to sustain life. An even more incredible discovery occurred when a European research group in LaSalla, Chili found what is believed to be the most earthlike planet. Though there are differences, there are also many similarities. This discovery has been deemed one of the most important findings in modern science because it shows that there just might be life somewhere besides earth.

From a Christian point of view, we know there is life “out there” although our understanding of “somewhere else” is much different than science. It might be exciting to think that UFOs are real and that there are beings trying to reach out in fellowship with us. However, we do not need any evidence of alien life to know that we are part of something bigger. When we sing the songs of thanksgiving and praise, like the one in today’s Psalm, we can see that there is something greater. We aren’t meant to be alone, but part of the whole, whatever that whole might include.

There are many people who enjoy a life of faith in God but prefer to do it alone. They argue that the Church is not a building; church is individual believers in personal relationships with God. They claim that He can be found anywhere, in the quietness of the fields and under the shade of a tree. While this is true, we are called to gather together in fellowship with Christians of every time and place, including the here and now. Our praises, sung together in the presence of God is far more beautiful to His ears than those we sing alone.

We are called and gathered by the Holy Spirit to join with the entire creation to sing praises to God our Father. He hears our praise wherever we are because everything He has made sings along with us. Yet, there is something very special when Christians raise their voices together to glorify God. When you consider the entire creation - the heavens that reach far beyond our imagination, the planets in the universe that might possibly sustain other life forms, the microscopic organisms that could destroy a population of humans, the redwood trees that reach so high we can’t see the top, the depths of the sea that are too deep for our technology - it is easy to see the greatness of God. He has created mankind to be the crown of His creation; our purpose is to glorify Him with our voices raise in praise together. He has given us the heavens and the earth. He has given us the sun and the wind and the rain. He has made the animals, birds, plants and trees for us. And He has given the care and love of one another, an active sacrificial love even as we remain true to who we have been created to be.

God cares about all His creation: every bug, fish, bird, animal and even every human being. Human beings might be the only creature that creates buildings in which to worship God, but we are just a small part of the creation. The sun, the moon and the stars all praise God. The heavens and the raindrops glorify God; the earth and all that lives on land and in sea sing His praises. The elements, the mountains, the hills and all the trees praise God. Wild and domesticated animals, clean and unclean and birds of the sky all join in the worship. No man is greater than all this, whether ruler or servant, young or old, male or female. All creation was made by God and all creation sings His praise.

Unfortunately, not every human being has benefitted from the saving grace of Jesus Christ; not all our neighbors have faith in our God. However, we are reminded by our scriptures for today that we cannot judge our neighbors’ faith by our expectations. That neighbor you want to reject might just be the very person God is sending you to share the Gospel of Christ. The atheist that is unwavering in their lack of faith could be the next one upon whom God’s Spirit will fall. We might just be surprised; we might just realize that there just as God is not limited by time or space, there are no limits to God’s grace.

God has done something new, but it isn’t really all that new. It is as He always intended. The psalmist shows us that the entire creation sings His praise. In Revelation we see all God’s people, no matter who they are, joining in the eternal worship of the One who did it all. Death and tears may have entered the world, but God has overcome death and will wipe away all our tears. One day we will join in the praise of the whole creation and all the Church for eternity, dwelling once again with the God who created us, loves us, and saves those who hear His voice and believe in Jesus Christ our Lord.

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May 12, 2022

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, watching in it with thanksgiving, praying together for us also, that God may open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds, that I may reveal it as I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Colossians 4:2-6, WEB

I worked in retail, both as an employee and in management. There are plenty of tasks that need to be accomplished every day, including checking out and helping customers, stocking shelves, and keeping the floor looking neat and organized. This last one is the most frustrating because it doesn’t take long for a department to become chaos. If you have walked through the clothing department of any retail store, you know what I mean. Those shelves of t-shirts are never neat, no matter how hard the employees try. It is an endless struggle because customers always want the shirt that is on the bottom of the pile, which then upsets the whole thing. It doesn’t help that they unfold several before deciding which one they want, and then just throw the unwanted items back on the shelf.

As a former retail employee, it bothers me to see them messy, so I tend to clean up as I shop. If something is on the floor or out of place, I put it back. I have moved the wrong size items to the right spot on the rack, straightened shelves, folded clothes and rehung items that have fallen off the hangers. Sometimes this habit of mine makes it seem as though I’m a store employee and people ask for my help. I usually do whatever I can, but I make sure that they know that I do not work there. I have read articles about others who have this habit, and it has gotten them into uncomfortable situations.

On a few occasions, I’ve been asked for help even when it was obvious I was not a store employee. Perhaps I look like I belong in retail. Or maybe I just look like a nice lady willing to help. I was once looking through the videos when an elderly began to ask me questions about movies. She wanted to know if I had seen a movie, it I liked it, would I recommend it for her? She wondered if there were any I thought she might enjoy. She followed me from rack to rack, discussing price, stars and other things. Even when I was finished with my choice, she continued to chat. It was a pleasant conversation, but I needed to leave.

I don’t know what made the woman talk to me so long, but I hope it is because the love of Christ shines in my life. I found it hard to believe that someone could trust a complete stranger’s opinion, but I think the woman was more interested in some conversation than my choice in movies. We wandered around the store a bit together until I finally told her I had to go. She gave me a hug and told me to have a good day. She needed a friend, and I could be one.

Retail employees, especially in the big box stores, have some sort of uniform to make them easily identifiable to the customers. It would be nice if we as Christians could wear some sort of badge to identify ourselves to the world. Yet, our Christian life should be recognized not by the clothes we wear or by some mark on our bodies, but by the way we live. People should be able to see Christ shining so that they will know that we can be trusted to help them.

In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he gave them some instructions about how to live. As we journey through life, prayer is the starting point for all we do. God is manifest through our words, prayers and thanksgiving. God has blessed us with many gifts and opportunities to use them. Yet, if we wander around as if we do not know Him, then none will be drawn by His love. This is why Paul writes of walking in wisdom, seasoning our speech with grace and being prepared to answer when people ask. The questions are not always to find out information. Sometimes people ask to just see if we are willing to listen, to love, to serve and to shine the light of Christ. We are blessed to be a blessing, saved so that we can go out and share the saving grace of Jesus with others. Do people recognize that grace in you?

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May 13, 2022

“As therefore you received Christ Jesus, the Lord, walk in him, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, even as you were taught, abounding in it in thanksgiving. Be careful that you don’t let anyone rob you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ. For in him all the fullness of the Deity dwells bodily, and in him you are made full, who is the head of all principality and power.” Colossians 2:6-9, WEB

Superstition is defined, “A widely held but unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences of an action or event, or a practice based on such a belief.” Most superstitions are considered irrational, although everybody has something that they hold to, even if it is subconsciously. Of course, there have been times throughout history when people were more superstitious than at other times. The people who lived in those times were more likely to attribute events that were beyond their control. particularly negative, to the supernatural. Superstitions are often connected to fears, so we try to find ways to control or seek supernatural control over the things we fear might bring us harm.

There is a video online of a bunch of cows moving from one field to another. For some reason, the first cow jumped over the white painted line in the center of the road. All the other cows followed suit. It is a funny video, but it brings to memory the childhood superstition, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. Step on a line, break your father’s spine.” We probably all played the game at some point in our childhood, whether we believed the superstition or not. The source of most superstitions is questionable. Look up “Friday the 13th” and you’ll discover a number of different reasons why it has become a day of bad luck. None of them are truly rational.

Do you suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia, which is an abnormal fear of Friday the 13th? According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Ashville, North Carolina, millions of people suffer from this phobia to the point of changing their daily routine on the day to avoid bad luck. Some people refuse to go to work or even get out of bed. I once heard someone say that they planned to travel on the 12th because they refused to get on an airplane 13th. Interestingly, the Dutch Center for Insurance Statistics report that fewer accidents, fires, or thefts are reported to have happened when Friday is the 13th compared to all other Fridays. So is it really unlucky? Or, are people so frightened by the possibility of accident that they are extra careful on Friday the 13th?

Though some fears are extreme, there are often reasonable reasons for them. We are afraid of snakes because some snakes can really hurt humans. The fear of heights can come from a real experience of falling or knowing someone who fell. The news is filled with images of fiery plane crashes, so it is understandable when someone refuses to board a plane. But have millions of people really experienced something horrible on Friday the 13th to give substance to the fear? Probably not.

We are so ingrained with the belief that something bad will happen on Friday the 13th that we think the superstition has been around for a long time. However, there is little evidence it was popular before the 20th century. There are a few writings that refer to the date, a few horrific events that happened on Friday the 13th, but researchers can only theorize that the tradition began because of those events. A website lists a dozen possible reasons why people might have this unreasonable fear, but every theory is questionable. So, can this day be truly unlucky when there is no real reason to think so?

There are those who think that faith in the Christian God is nothing but superstition. They think that the story of Jesus Christ is a mere fairy tale. They have a limited understanding of the God of our salvation and think we are foolish for believing. Yet, I suspect that many of them hold to some sort of superstition of their own, such as avoiding cracks or being extra careful on Friday the 13th. We get worked up over our fears because we forget that we do not go through our days alone. Friday the 13th is like any other day; we are afraid because we do not trust. If you are afraid to go out into the world because it is Friday the 13th, remember that Jesus has promised to be with you always, and face the day with courage and faith. It might not be a perfect day and something might just go wrong, but with God in the midst of it everything will work out just the way He has planned.

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May 16, 2022

“He spoke this parable. ‘A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it, and found none. He said to the vine dresser, “Behold, these three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and found none. Cut it down. Why does it waste the soil?” He answered, “Lord, leave it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit, fine; but if not, after that, you can cut it down.”’” Luke 13:6-9, WEB

Children learn best when they have hands on experience. Math teachers use manipulatives to help children see how one plus one really makes two. Science labs give the children a chance to explore how things work. Field trips to historic sights give the children a firsthand look at the way things used to be. It is not enough to hear the lessons taught with words or read in a book. There are many ways to learn, but we all benefit from hands-on experiences; children and adults learn by using all our senses. We might like to think that as we grow older we can learn things more intellectually, using only our brains, but we really need the whole experience to be connected to the things we are learning.

I recently bought a new camera. I have some knowledge, but I’m still learning, and now I’ve added the complexity of a new-fangled camera. It has the advantage of having a cheater setting called Intelligent Auto that lets the camera do all the hard work. Of course, there are bells and whistles that will make even the easy setting take better photos, but those will come with time. I have a digital copy of the owner’s manual and when I have a question I access it occasionally to learn what I need to know. However, I’ve learned that the best way to figure out how to use my camera is to use it. Sometimes I push the wrong buttons and the photos are terrible, but sometimes I discover something fun that I can do with it. I tested it last night with the lunar eclipse and took my first ever detailed pictures of the moon. I wouldn’t have learned that by just reading the manual.

Christianity is not a purely intellectual endeavor. We read the Bible and we pray, and these are wonderful activities that God uses to draw us into His heart, but it is not enough to engage just our minds to grow spiritually mature. There are other more active things we do, like fellowship with other believers and join in worship that use other senses like our ears and our mouths. We need to experience God in worship and know His presence with our entire beings. Some churches go so far as to include other senses, like incense for the sense of smell. Of course, we share the Lord’s Supper to experience the sense of taste. We touch each other when we hug hello or pass the peace. The type of worship and fellowship that takes advantage of every sense draws us fully into the presence of God. The grace we experience with one another equips and strengthens us to become even more active with our faith.

The lesson from Luke teaches us that our Christian life is meant to bear fruit. We are God’s hands and feet in this world. William Barclay wrote in his book “The Parables of Jesus” wrote, “When God wants something done and someone helped He has to find a hand to supply that help.” I’m not sure I agree entirely on Barclay’s language here; God can do anything, even the impossible. I’d rather say that God invites us to be His hands in this world, we just need to look for the opportunities to help our neighbors in big and small ways.

The fully lived Christian life is not passive or merely intellectual. We have to become part of it with our minds, hearts and bodies, sharing in the life of Jesus in every way. We don’t need to know how to do it intellectually; God teaches us by showing us ways to practice His grace with our neighbors. The more we do for our neighbors, the more we find our connection to Jesus is greater because He is working in and through us. We cannot do this without Him, for we are sinners by nature unable to do good works on our own. But in Him we are forgiven and reconciled to God and by His power and love we can bear good fruit.

We only know God through the revelation of His Son our Lord Jesus Christ. We could never participate again in fellowship, worship or growth of a Christian life and still by faith be saved. Yet, it will not bring us the joy and peace we can know when we have that deep connection that comes from the experiences of learning about Him with our whole selves. God has made it possible to enjoy Him in every way and gives us the opportunities to participate in His kingdom so that we will fully know Him and live our whole lives in His service, bearing fruit that glorifies Him.

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May 17, 2022

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other commandments there are, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love doesn’t harm a neighbor. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:8-10, WEB

It is amazing how many people on the small claims court television shows are there because of an outstanding debt. As the judge questions the participants, the plaintiff usually admits that they “trusted that my friend would pay me back” so they didn’t put anything in writing, and the defendant claims it was a gift. The judge must discern who is telling the truth and make a judgment on the testimonies. The stories are sad because they usually involve family members who are estranged over these loans or best friends that will never talk to one another because it has ruined their relationship.

We might shake our head at these cases, but who among us has not borrowed money at one point or another? My husband and I are blessed to be at a point in our life when our finances are strong, and we have little debt, just a car payment and mortgage, both of which I’m paying more than the minimum payment. We pay off other bills quickly. I am glad we are in good shape, but I understand those who are can barely make it from paycheck to paycheck because I’ve been there. A couple decades ago we were struggling so much that I borrowed the money from our children’s savings accounts. I was able to pay it back with interest and they were young enough that they didn’t even know the money was missing.

The problem with so many of those who end up on the small claims court shows is that they do not good financial skills. They don’t realize how quickly debt can grow, and they get into such trouble that they need help. They make promises to pay back loans, then can’t do it because they haven’t fixed anything else. They use their cards to their limits and then only pay the required payment. Unfortunately, the minimum payments don’t do much for getting rid of the debt. It is barely more than the interest that is charged each month. The debt on a credit card, if tackled with only the minimum payment, will last forever. I’ve always tried to pay at least double the minimum, because then I actually see the principle dwindle.

The financial experts encourage people to pay off their debts. For every month that the debt continues, the item purchased costs more. Take, for instance, that dinner at the steak house last weekend. It may have seemed like a good deal when you used the coupon to get half off the appetizer, but if you put that bill on a credit card, and pay only the minimum payment, you’ll end up paying interest on food long after it is gone. At least with a mortgage there is a chance to build some equity and with a car payment you get to use the car for a long time. But that steak is barely even a memory by the time the bill arrives in the mail.

Sadly, sometimes we treat our relationships like our credit cards. If a neighbor invites us to dinner, we feel like we need to reciprocate. If a friend buys us a present, we rush out to buy something for them. If we take advantage of their hospitality, we insist that there must be something we can do for them. It is as if we are constantly trying to pay off debts between people. But are these debts and can they really be paid off?

Paul writes, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” The Zondervan NIV Study Bible has this in the notes, “To love is the one debt that is never paid off. No matter how much people have loved, they are under obligation to keep on loving one another.” Unfortunately, we tend to pay off the debt of love like we pay off those high credit card bills: just enough. We don’t go above and beyond expectations. If our neighbor gives us a loaf of bread, we give back a loaf of bread. We should really be inviting them to a grand feast. We don’t do this, however, because we doubt that they can reciprocate. So, we give just enough. It is a vicious circle. We eventually learn that our inability to pay our debts like credit card bills can have a negative effect on our lives.

My favorite judge often councils those litigants in her court that they should never loan any money to people they love, or if they do, they should do so without expectations. “Don’t lend more than you can lose,” she says. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, and sometimes the best thing we can do is to let go of the debt for the sake of the relationship. As Christians on the other hand, if we are the borrower then we should do everything we can to make things right. That money we have borrowed may be making life harder on our loved one. Love demands we do what’s best for the other, whichever side of a debt we are on.

We may not receive in return the kind of love we give, but we are loved with an even greater love: God’s. There is nothing we can do for our neighbor that is as great as the gift God has given us. There is no feast as grand as the one we receive in faith. There is no human love that can stand up to all that God has already done for us. So, we live in that love, letting it flow to our neighbors whether or not it flows back our way. The debt we owe is because God has first loved us. As we live in that love, we will not hold back on the payment, giving freely and fully to those whom God has sent our way.

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