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









Active Faith










St. Andrew



Scripture quotes taken from the American Standard Version

A WORD FOR TODAY, November 2008

November 3, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 9, 2008: Amos 5:18-24 or Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; Psalm 70 or Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep; that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

There are a great many television shows focused on that one really big event in many people’s lives: the wedding. “Whose wedding is it anyway” shows wedding planners who try to keep brides and their high dreams under control and within budget. “My Big Redneck Wedding” stars Tom Arnold who takes us through the planning of weddings in small town and back woods places. The brides and grooms usually end up in some sort of camouflage and there are always guns or mud involved. “Bridal Bootcamp” stars brides who are going through a fitness program designed to help them get in shape for their wedding. “Say Yes to the Dress” focuses on the important task of finding the perfect wedding dress for the big event. “Wedding Design on a Dime” helps couples put together an fantastic wedding for very little money.

Most little girls dream about their wedding from a very early age. They expect to be princesses while the whole world revolves around them for that one moment in time. They can imagine their guests, the fanciful decorations and the huge tiered wedding cake. For the dreaming child, money is no object. For the exceptional bride, money is still no object. “Platinum Weddings” shows brides planning a party when there is no budget. These brides are able to spend thousands of dollars on just the flowers. The final bills for these weddings are often a quarter or a half million dollars. Gifts to the bridal parties often include diamonds. The food is the best in the world. The dresses are designer. The banquet hall is like a fairy tale. These weddings are the fulfillment of every little girl’s dream.

Few people can afford weddings where everyone gets steak and lobster tale, but they still want the fairy tale. Most people learn how to adapt. They find ways to make it special while staying within their budget. They settle for less and find happiness in the best they can afford. Some brides, however, demand more than they can afford. The show “Rich Bride, Poor Bride” has wedding planners trying to put together the perfect wedding within a certain budget. The brides (and sometimes the grooms) insist on items that do not really fit, and the weddings often cost way more than they want. “Bridezillas” takes that to the extreme. The bridezillas really do believe the world revolves around them. They think they are entitled to their perfect wedding, even if they can’t afford it. They think they are that everyone’s lives should stop so that they can take care of her every need. Bridesmaids often have to choose between the bride and their own children.

As the weddings grow closer, the bridezillas get more and more out of control. They get angry and upset. They kick their friends out of the wedding and then get angry when the friends do not show up to make centerpieces. They manipulate parents and husbands-to-be out of cash and pity and complete devotion. They become so demanding that they bring out the worst in everyone around. As I watch, I often wonder if the wedding will ever happen. And when the wedding does happy, I often wonder if the marriage will last. The focus is all wrong. Instead of celebrating the union of two people, those weddings become a coronation for the bride. All too often they say, “This is my day.” I’ve even heard them say that it has nothing to do with the groom. They’ve forgotten the purpose and lost sight of the real meaning of that day.

The relationship between God and His people is described as a marriage and the coming of Christ as the wedding when the bridegroom (Jesus) comes to get His bride (the Church.) We live in expectation of that day as a bride waits for her wedding day. Sometimes we respond like those bridezillas, with demands and upside down expectations. We forget what it is all about. We forget who God is and what He has done for us. We look forward not to the fulfillment of God’s promises but for the fulfillment of our own wants. We lose sight of Christ and demand that God fit into our box.

The people in Paul’s day, perhaps even Paul, were getting nervous. They expected Jesus to return within their lifetime. They saw the second coming as an immediate response to what was happening, and every day that passed brought doubt and concern. They people who knew Jesus personally were dying. The first believers were passing away. Would Jesus come before they were all gone? Paul assured them that it did not matter. Those who were dead were not gone forever. Jesus would return, and all those who died in faith would be with Him at that trumpet sound. Paul shares his image of that day. It might not match our image, or even match the reality when it happens, but he has found comfort in wondering what it will look like. Many others have done the same. The image of Christ returning is a favorite of authors, artists and film makers.

How do you see the coming of Christ? What do you think you will see on that day? Whatever your image, always remember, as Paul, that the promise is in Christ Jesus and that we will be with the Lord forever. As we think about His coming, let us do so in a way that encourages one another as we wait patiently for the Day of the Lord.


November 4, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 9, 2008: Amos 5:18-24 or Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; Psalm 70 or Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Matthew 25:1-13 Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For the foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there is a cry, Behold, the bridegroom! Come ye forth to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are going out. But the wise answered, saying, Peradventure there will not be enough for us and you: go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went away to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage feast: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour.

I tend to over pack when we travel. I guess that’s why I prefer road trips: I have more freedom to take the things I might not need but really think I should have along “just in case.” You know how it is. You are traveling to a place where the weather is different than the place you live. You can check weather reports, but who knows what it will really be like in a few days. What if a cold front comes through? I should have a jacket and long pants. What if there is a record heat wave? I should have some shorts and a swimming suit. What if there is nothing to do? I should take a bag full of things to fill the time. I always pack an extra book, even if the book I’m reading is so long there’s no way I could finish it during the trip. We fill the car with more snacks than we could possibly eat. I fill my cosmetic case with every type of health and hygiene product I might need along the way. I usually come home with clothes that haven’t been worn and items that were never needed. But, what would I have done if I had needed them? I was ready for every possibility.

I even do it when I am headed out for a few hours. I try to take a book wherever I go, just in case I have a few minutes to read. I keep a few things in my purse, like a nail file for a broken fingernail. I always make sure I have a few dollars in my wallet even though most places I shop will take my debit card. I like to be prepared. Even so, I am not always prepared. It amazes me how many times I forget my book and then end up waiting longer than expected for one of the kids. I can never find that nail file when one of my nails breaks. Despite the fact that I try to keep at least a couple of pens in my purse, I can never find one when I need it.

I suppose it is because I’m an over packer, but this story never really made sense to me. Who doesn’t ensure enough oil for the lamp? But then, who would expect the bridegroom to take so long to arrive? There was no reason to think that they would need more oil than was in their lamp. There was no reason to plan ahead. Yet, five of the virgins did just that, they looked at the possibility that the bridegroom might be delayed. They prepared for the “just in case.”

In yesterday’s passage, Paul wrote about this expectation that Christ was coming immediately. They were all waiting anxiously, sure that Jesus would return in their lifetimes. Some of the Christians were becoming doubtful and frustrated because their loved ones were dying and Christ had not yet come. What would happen if they died, too? They thought they would see the fulfillment of the promise. It is terribly disappointing to know that we will not see the hope realized in our lifetime. Yet, the Church has longingly waited for Christ to return for two thousand years. It is very easy to lose hope.

There are still those today who live their faith as if we are the generation who will finally see the promise fulfilled. It is possible. We can look around our world and see the signs. But, every generation since Jesus has seen the signs. In every generation there are those who lose hope because they interpret the signs to mean that now is the time and when it does not come as they expect they turn from the promise. The oil in the lamp of the virgins is the hope we have as we wait for God to finish the work He began two thousand years ago. Hope can die out, our light can dim, if we do not keep hold of the promise. That’s what the five wise virgins had but the five foolish virgins lost while they waited: they did not stand firm in the faith that the bridegroom would come, renewing their hope even when it seemed like He would never come.


November 5, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 9, 2008: Amos 5:18-24 or Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; Psalm 70 or Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her, and is found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her. He who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty, for he will find her sitting at his gates. To fix one's thought on her is perfect understanding, and he who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care, because she goes about seeking those worthy of her, and she graciously appears to them in their paths, and meets them in every thought. (New Revised Standard Version)

I know it is always odd when I bring to this devotional scriptures that are not found in most commonly used versions of the Bible. The Book of Wisdom, or Wisdom of Solomon, is found in the deutero-canonical writings often placed between the Old Testament and New Testament books with which we are all familiar. Though the book was considered canonical in the second century, it was not included in the canon of the Jewish Bible which is why it is separated from other Old Testament texts. It was found in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) and was included in the Vulgate (a fifth century Latin version of the scriptures.) Martin Luther separated the deuteron-canonical books and placed them in a section called the Apocrypha. An apocrypha includes books whose canonicity is questioned.

There are a number of these books which are included as options in the Revised Common Lectionary. Though no one questions the authenticity of these books, they are unfamiliar to most modern Christians because most modern Bibles do not include translations of them. I had to use the NRSV translation for the text today because it was not translated for the American Standard Version. There is value in these texts and it is worth hearing what is said. Though today’s passage comes from a book called “Wisdom of Solomon,” modern experts do not believe it was actually written by Solomon. It may have been written by a descendent of David (the writer calls himself ‘son of David’) in the first or second century B.C. The beginning of the book talks about Wisdom as a divine characterization, text that has long been used by Christians as a type and foretelling of the person of Jesus Christ. The end of the book mirrors the Passover Haggadah, the text defining the religious ritual used in ancient Egypt during the Passover service. It tells the story of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt.

The text is appropriate for this week’s lectionary because in it we see wisdom defined, not only as a divine quality, but also as a characteristic of those who live in faith and trust in God. The wise virgins in the Gospel text had lasting hope, a faith that believed that even when it seemed impossible the bridegroom would come. They were prepared for the late coming of the loved one. Paul was writing words of wisdom to a people whose hopes were fading. Their loved ones were dying despite the promise that Christ would come again. Why was He delayed? Paul reminded them that the promise is for those who believe in Christ, whether dead or alive and that Christ would bring all those of faith together in His day. We need only be patient.

We are reminded in the prophecy from Amos that the Day of the Lord will not look like we expect. We have to hold on to the hope that God’s promises are true. It is easy to fall apart when our expectations are smashed and we are disappointed by what we see happening in the world around us. It is easy to fall into the temptations around us, to conform to the world and to give in to our flesh. We need not be afraid of tomorrow, but we are reminded that God is looking at things much differently than our human hearts and minds. He does not accept the worship that is not founded in a life of real sacrifice. He does not care about the blood of animals or the sweet sounding songs if there is no real justice. Righteousness is not something that can be worn like a mask, but is a right relationship with the One who has delivered and promised to save His people. It takes the wisdom of God to establish and develop that kind of relationship. It comes from Him.

Finally, as we wait for the Day of the Lord, we may find ourselves attacked by those who appear to be living right and true lives, but who are not wise according to the ways of God. They are like King Saul, arrogant in position and authority, but forgetting the source of his blessing and power. We are called to be more like David, humble before God, seeking His face and being obedient to His Word. David is faithful and faith-filled. The one who knows Wisdom is also faithful and faith-filled. As we seek to know God, we will find Wisdom who will teach us and guide us in His ways. She will be vigilant and present in our thoughts and deeds. She is not hard to find, but as the writer of today’s passage says, “she graciously appears to them in their paths, and meets them in every thought.”


November 6, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 16, 2008: Zephaniah 1:7. 12-18; Psalm 90:1-8 [9-11] 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord Jehovah; for the day of Jehovah is at hand: for Jehovah hath prepared a sacrifice, he hath consecrated his guests… And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with lamps; and I will punish the men that are settled on their lees, that say in their heart, Jehovah will not do good, neither will he do evil. And their wealth shall become a spoil, and their houses a desolation: yea, they shall build houses, but shall not inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, but shall not drink the wine thereof. The great day of Jehovah is near, it is near and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of Jehovah; the mighty man crieth there bitterly. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm, against the fortified cities, and against the high battlements. And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against Jehovah; and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of Jehovah's wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy: for he will make an end, yea, a terrible end, of all them that dwell in the land.

It is passages like this one that makes me wonder why I follow the lectionary for A WORD FOR TODAY. There is nothing but doom and gloom found in this text. There is no promise. There is no Gospel. There is only a word of warning describing that the Day of the Lord will be horrifying. God will be searching for sinners, setting forth to punish those who are indifferent. God’s people thought that God would let them be because they were His people, but in this passage we see that God will not hold back from dealing with the sins of His people. This isn’t a pretty passage. It is not an image of God we want to see. Most pastors will probably ignore this passage because it does not fit into our understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

But as we draw to the end of the Church year, we are reminded that we are still looking forward to the Day of the Lord. We find comfort in the images of Christ returning, taking His people with Him, promises fulfilled finally after so much time. Yet, we can not forget that the people of Israel were God’s people and that they had turned from the God who had blessed them above all other nations. They were set aside for a purpose and they had failed. They were unfaithful to God and the coming Day of the Lord would not be for God to defeat His enemies, but to cause His people to turn back to Him.

So, it does us well to listen to the warnings of the Old Testament promise. It is true we live under a new covenant, but we are the same as those who throughout the ages have believed in God. We, too, can become complacent. We can forget God when our focus is on other things. We can turn our hope toward earthly things and lose sight of the One who is our true hope. Zephaniah talks about the people building houses and making wine, building up wealth that they would never use. Aren’t we doing the same? And when our lives are threatened by forces beyond our control, we mumble like the people in Zephaniah’s day that God won’t do anything, good or bad. We think we can “settle on our lees.” But God is offended by our indifference.

He calls us to know Him fully, to know His power as well as His grace. He reminds us with passages such as today’s that we can fall, turning away from the grace He so freely gives. We can lose sight of Him by focusing on our own desires and resting in our own wealth. Zephaniah writes, “Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of Jehovah’s wrath.” We can’t buy our way out of learning that lesson all over again. We can only fall on our knees in repentance, crying out to the God who can ensure our deliverance or allow our destruction. Has He, even now, been consecrating the enemy for that great and terrible Day of the Lord? Will we see it? Are we ready?

This is certainly not a message we want to hear. But we do have something that trumps this message: hope in God. He has promised, and He is faithful. We may not hear it clearly, but the Gospel underlies every text we can read. We read a message like this through the eyes of faith, resting in God’s love. We know that through His story, He has relented from destruction. He has changed His mind. We also know that He has given us His own Son to overcome our faithlessness and sin. The image in this passage may seem hopeless, but we are called to believe that there is always hope even when we can’t see it with our eyes. God does not forget His promises. Despite the warning there is always a promise. Zephaniah writes later in the book, “Jehovah thy God is in the midst of thee, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love; he will joy over thee with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)


November 7, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 16, 2008: Zephaniah 1:7. 12-18; Psalm 90:1-8 [9-11] 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

Psalm 90 Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Thou turnest man to destruction, and sayest, Return, ye children of men. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, And as a watch in the night. Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: In the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; In the evening it is cut down, and withereth. For we are consumed in thine anger, And in thy wrath are we troubled. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, Our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. [For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: We bring our years to an end as a sigh. The days of our years are threescore years and ten, Or even by reason of strength fourscore years; Yet is their pride but labor and sorrow; For it is soon gone, and we fly away. Who knoweth the power of thine anger, And thy wrath according to the fear that is due unto thee?] So teach us to number our days, that we may get us a heart of wisdom.

A few years ago, when we lived in England, one of the churches in our community did a Good Friday service that used photos of paintings of the images of Christ. On each half hour throughout the day, we saw a picture projected on a screen, heard a brief meditation and then sat quietly for the rest of the half hour praying and thinking about that image of Christ. Sometime later I was able to get copies of those pictures. The pictures come from all over the world. The represent the diversity of our understanding of God and our unity despite our differences. We all believe in the same Christ, even if we see Him with slightly different eyes.

We like to put God in a box. It is much easier for us to deal with the concept of God if He fits within our human understanding. We build magnificent churches in which we invite Him to dwell in them, as if He needs a place made by human hands to dwell. We visit Him regularly, but when we walk out the doors into the world, we often forget that He goes with us. It is easier for us if we let Him stay hidden away in our box because then we do not have to try to explain the things we do not understand about Him. We don’t know how to juxtapose our image of God when faced with an image like that which we saw in the passage yesterday.

We find it especially difficult to deal with the idea of eternity. How can there be no beginning or end to time? We have so nicely laid out our days, divided them up into simple units: seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years. We have even taken the story of God and divided it up into seasons—that’s what we do with the lectionary and in this devotional. Time is easier for us to grasp when we can identify it. We remember yesterday and look forward to tomorrow. We keep histories of our lives so that we won’t forget and we fit God into our story. It is too frightening to think of ourselves in God’s story. What is our life compared to eternity? What is our life compared to the universe? Our life is barely a fraction of a second and we are nothing more than a spot on a speck. To cope with this, we define God by our terms, limiting His time and His scope to be much closer to us. We can hold on to a God that we keep in a building.

God calls us to look at the world from a different perspective. He does not need our buildings in which to dwell, but offers Himself as a dwelling place for us. He is not limited by time. For Him a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day. The psalmist writes, “a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past.” We might think time passes quickly, especially when we watch our children grow up. But we can’t even imagine a thousand years being like just one day.

And so, as we draw closer to the Day of the Lord, we are reminded that God can not be kept in a box, but we do have our limits. Time does pass for us. We get older. Things change. The world becomes different. Our magnificent buildings get old and crumble, the things we deem important become obsolete. Even our words pass away; they are forgotten or they become irrelevant. But God and His Word are from everlasting to everlasting. He does not dwell in the world we have created for Him, we dwell in Him. He does not exist within time as we have ordered it, He has ordered the world in which we dwell. We need not put God in a box to understand Him because He has given us all we need to live. Whether our time is short or long, our home large or small, we dwell in the midst of the One who is outside time and space even while we are limited by our flesh in this world. And while we find comfort in the images of God that we have that help us to identify Him, let us never forget that He is more than we can imagine. He is beyond our grasp even while He is so close that we can feel presence in our life. This paradox is such a great mystery, and yet we find comfort in the reality that God is before and beyond all that we know.


November 10, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 16, 2008: Zephaniah 1:7. 12-18; Psalm 90:1-8 [9-11] 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that aught be written unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. When they are saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall in no wise escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief: for ye are all sons of light, and sons of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep, as do the rest, but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night: and they that are drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, since we are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God appointed us not into wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore exhort one another, and build each other up, even as also ye do.

A light bulb glows brightly when it is new, but it slowly dims as time goes by. As it gets older, the light bulb eventually burns itself out until that day when the filament breaks and the light is gone forever. Then we have to replace the bulb and it is shocking how bright it is when we turn on the light again. We do not realize how dim it is becoming until it is burnt out and it is replaced with a new and brighter light. We do not know when a light bulb will burn out, but when it is replaced we realize that we had been seeing the signs all along, we just didn’t realize it.

One of the advantages of the nomadic military life is that we moved every few years. Each move offered us the chance to change. We purged the excess baggage when we packed our household goods. We had to say good-bye to old friends and make new ones. The children had to get used to a new school, new teachers and new activities. We couldn’t always ensure that we would find a troop to join or that the school will be teaching the same curriculum. We experienced the shock of changing cultures, even when we moved within the United States, since every place we’ve lived has been somewhat different from the last. We had to find a new church, get used to new food, and establish a new schedule. Everything is new again. We always moved long before our lives in one place became too settled. We changed our life before our old life ‘blew out.’

We have lived in Texas for nearly five years now, and while I don’t know if we will ever become so settled in one place that we’ll become complacent, I do notice that our piles of stuff are growing and the dust bunnies in the hidden and unnoticeable corners are soon going to have to be dealt with. We usually clean them out once the furniture is on the truck, but with no move in sight I will actually have to find a way into those corners or ignore the dust bunnies altogether. I don’t care so much about the dust bunnies, so they’ll probably continue to live quietly in those corners.

As we settle into a place, we stop noticing the little things that are wrong. We don’t notice that the paint on the walls has become faded and chipped. We don’t notice the worn carpets or the grime in between the tiles. We don’t notice the change because we stop looking. We are not worried about the paint on the walls or the dust bunnies in the corners because it happens so slowly we do not notice. But as we sit back unconcerned, our world slowly falls apart around us like the light bulb about to burn out.

We are reminded to see the world in which we live through the light which we have been given by our Lord and our God. Despite two thousand years of waiting, we are called to stay awake. Paul might have thought that Jesus would return during his lifetime, but his words are for us today. It is easy to become complacent, to settle into the world without concern for the heavenly things. It is easy to let the dust bunnies of our lives to grow in those hidden and unnoticeable corners. It is easy to let the light bulb slowly dim making it hard to see how our lives are falling apart around us. But we are called to be in the light, to be the light along with our Lord Jesus Christ. We are called to suit up and dwell in the promise of God, whose hope and salvation are true. We won’t be disappointed unless we allow ourselves to settle too deeply into the world and forget that the immediacy of Paul’s warnings are for now as well as then. Jesus can still come soon, and if we lose sight of His kingdom, He will come like a thief in the night. But we are people of the day, of the light. Let us pray that we will not fall asleep as we wait patiently and longingly for the Day of the Lord.


November 11, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 16, 2008: Zephaniah 1:7. 12-18; Psalm 90:1-8 [9-11] 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

Matthew 25:14-30 For it is as when a man, going into another country, called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one; to each according to his several ability; and he went on his journey. Straightway he that received the five talents went and traded with them, and made other five talents. In like manner he also that received the two gained other two. But he that received the one went away and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money. Now after a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and maketh a reckoning with them. And he that received the five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: lo, I have gained other five talents. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord. And he also that received the two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: lo, I have gained other two talents. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord. And he also that had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou didst not sow, and gathering where thou didst not scatter; and I was afraid, and went away and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, thou hast thine own. But his lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I did not scatter; thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the bankers, and at my coming I should have received back mine own with interest. Take ye away therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him that hath the ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away. And cast ye out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.

I’m reading a book by Ken Follett called, “World Without End.” It is about a small town in Medieval England, its priory and its people. The writer has introduced us to every class of people from the prior to an itinerant priest, prioress to novice, earl to serf, alderman to craftsman to apprentice. In the book we learn the responsibilities and limitations of each position in life. We hunger with the poor and we cringe at the manipulation of the nobility. We mourn with them, celebrate their successes and cry out at the injustice. It is a good story, especially if you are interested in historical fiction.

There is a character named Merthin. Merthin was the son of a knight who had lost everything except his title. Sir Gerald had another son named Ralph who was larger and stronger than Merthin. Though Ralph was the younger brother, he was sent to be a squire in the earl’s house. He eventually became a knight after fighting for the king in the war against France and restored the family name and position. Merthin, on the other hand, was forced to be apprenticed to a craftsman builder. His apprenticeship was to last six months, during which he learned how to build under the master craftsman. His was given only food and a place to sleep. At the end of the six months, he would be given his tools as payment for the work. Then he would be allowed to work for any craftsman, although most apprentices just continued to work for their master craftsman.

As it turned out, Merthin was a natural at building; he somehow understood the engineering necessary to make buildings and bridges large, strong and beautiful. This did not please his master because it was obvious that Merthin was the better builder long before the apprenticeship was complete. The master schemed, manipulating circumstances to put a bad light on Merthin. He was forced to leave his apprenticeship just short of the end. He did not receive his tools, so had to get started on his own, fighting against the guild rules and the rumors that had ruined him. He was good at building, so he was able to overcome the barriers. It is fiction. The reality is, an apprentice who did not complete his time would probably live the rest of his life as a low-wage laborer.

I don’t know much about apprenticeship in our world today, although I’m sure it still exists within the skilled labor fields. In other fields, interns serve in the same way, learning under an experienced member of the profession. Business people, clergy, lawyers and doctors serve internships. Like the apprentice, the intern shadows the professional for low pay so that they might gain first hand experience. We rely on institutional education in our world today for almost every job, but there is nothing like learning while practicing the profession.

I know some people are very bothered by this passage because we interpret the man to be God but we can’t juxtapose the description of God being “a hard man, reaping where thou didst not sow, and gathering where thou didst not scatter.” Yet, this is the story of a master giving his servants hands on experience. He gave each of these servants according to their ability and left them to learn how to deal with business while he was gone. I think it is interesting that we don’t see someone who lost their talents, although I suspect that the master would have been merciful. The problem with the third servant was not that he gave back the same amount, but that he did not even try to do anything with the money. This is like an apprentice who has been given permission to work, but does not try to fix a leak while the master has gone because he’s afraid he’ll screw up. A good master will give some freedom to the apprentice to succeed and to make mistakes. Some of the greatest lessons are learned in failure. The servant is unprofitable in this story not because he did not make a profit, but because he was worthless. He did nothing.


November 12, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 16, 2008: Zephaniah 1:7. 12-18; Psalm 90:1-8 [9-11] 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

So teach us to number our days, that we may get us a heart of wisdom.

The scriptures for this week reference, again, the Day of the Lord or the end of days. Every generation of Christian and religious folk from many faiths since the beginning of time have wondered about the end of the world. The imagination can go wild with the possibilities. We see the end as some sort of catastrophic event. People have watched for signs on earth and in the heavens. Comets, eclipses, meteor showers foretold of doom. The people have always pointed to world events as proof that they are the generation that will see the end. War, rumors of war, natural disasters are all signs or omens and have been for every generation of humans. The same is true today.

It is interesting, then, that the passage from Matthew talks about the work and successes or failures of the people waiting for the return of the landowner. The story foretells of Jesus’ own leaving and return. He is the landowner who gives gifts to the servants and goes away on a trip. When the landowner returns, he finds two of his servants have not only worked hard, but have profited from their work. They took what they had and made it into something bigger and better. In faith terms, they took their gifts and grew them which grows the kingdom and glorifies God.

So, even though the text does hint at an end time scenario, it is even more important to think about what we should be doing while we wait. We see in the story of God’s people throughout the Bible that many people do not have patience to wait, so they do what they think will hurry God along. Look at Abraham and Sarah. They could not wait for God to fulfill His promise that they would be the father and mother of nations, so they took matters into their own hands. They decided to use Sarah’s servant to get the long awaited heir. Their impatience still impacts our world today. Moses had little patience with God and the people as they journeyed through the wilderness. David had little patience with his situation and dealt with his sin against Uriah with more sin. The consequences of our decisions can be life altering, not just for ourselves, but for the world in which we live.

So, we know Christ is coming again, but we do not know when. How do we respond to the hope as we wait? The problem in Paul’s day is that the people were getting frantic because they were dying and Jesus had not yet returned. They were afraid and doubted the promise. They didn’t know what to do. Some were falling for false preaching. Others were oppressive with their own preaching, forcing others to believe in the hopes that they would create the necessary conditions for Jesus’ return. Yet others gave up. They stopped waiting and turned to the world for comfort and peace.

We look at the story of the talents and realize that we are called to be like the two servants who used their talents for the glory of God. He has gone away but has left us each with sufficient talents to make a difference in the world while we wait. It does us no good to sit around waiting for the Day of the Lord because there is so much to be accomplished. It does us no good to bury our talents when there are so many people who still need to experience God’s kingdom in this world. So, instead of waiting and wondering when the Day of the Lord will happen, or even wonder what it will be like, we are called to get to work, doing God’s business today. Then we have no need to worry, or fear or doubt, because we’ll be doing exactly what God is expecting from us when Christ comes again. He’d find us actively living in faith and hope and love, ready to see what He has planned for us in eternity.


November 13, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 23, 2008: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24: Psalm 95:1-7a; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 For thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I myself, even I, will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will deliver them out of all places whither they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the peoples, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them upon the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture; and upon the mountains of the height of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie down in a good fold; and on fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord Jehovah. I will seek that which was lost, and will bring back that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but the fat and the strong I will destroy; I will feed them in justice… Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah unto them: Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because ye thrust with side and with shoulder, and push all the diseased with your horns, till ye have scattered them abroad; therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I, Jehovah, will be their God, and my servant David prince among them; I, Jehovah, have spoken it.

I know it isn’t Thanksgiving yet, but it is impossible not to know that Christmas is coming. When the stores took down their Halloween displays, they replaced the ghouls and goblins with angels and nativities. Some radio stations are already playing Christmas music and the advertisements are full of references to the coming holiday season. Some are understandable, such as the commercials for layaway programs and ads for craft supplies. I have to admit that I purchased a Christmas ornament a few weeks ago, but I did so because I needed it for an auction item I was donating.

I like nativities. I don’t collect them like some people I know, although I think I could if I had a place to keep them. It is fascinating to see the different ways people represent that special moment in time. There is always a baby, Mary and Joseph. The other figures include wise men, animals, angels and a shepherd. The characterization of these figures is based on tradition. There were traditionally three kings, so the nativities include three kings. This is based on the idea that the kings are Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Caspar is usually given Oriental features, Melchior white skin and Balthasar black skin. The kings are sometimes represented in different stages of life. They symbolize every man, you and me.

The other character in most nativities is a shepherd. The image is of a young boy obviously poor. He is usually carrying a lamb, and though he’s muscular from his work, he is also skinny and poorly clothed. He usually has a cheerless look on his face. I’m sure that the image of the shepherd boy is based, at least in part, on the image of David when he was anointed to be king of Israel. David was the youngest and smallest of his brother. He was a shepherd boy, and yet he is the one that God chose to lead Israel. David did not take over the throne immediately, however. He spent time with Saul, then spent time running from Saul. When Saul died, many years later, David finally became king. By then he had become a hardened warrior and leader, though he still had the heart to serve God. His heart is what made him king, not his appearance or ability.

The shepherds were often boys, too small to fight and too uneducated to do much else. These boys did not own the sheep; the sheep belonged to a master. It seems odd that God would use the image of a shepherd to describe the leaders of His people, and yet it makes a lot of sense. After all, the shepherds are meant to be caregivers working under the Master. They aren’t the authority; they are given the authority by God. We see this in the story of David. He was selected to be king long before he had the ability, strength and power to lead. He relied on God and obeyed His word. That is what God expects of His chosen leaders. But we hear in today’s lesson that they failed.

God promised to send a new shepherd, one who would care for the sheep always relying on the Master and obeying His word. That was Jesus. God knew what would happen when God’s people asked for a king. God warned that an earthly king would demand much from the people; many would be cruel and lay heavy burdens on their shoulders. But He granted their request. Over the years, some of the kings were cruel and the people were led from the path of righteousness. Saul was the first of those to depart from God’s ways. David was chosen to stand as an example of the kind of king God intended for His people. From David would come the final king, the Messiah. It is that king we celebrate on this coming Sunday: Christ the King.

Isn’t it interesting that the nativities show kings kneeling before the Christ child, but it is the shepherd that really symbolizes what the baby in manger was to become?


November 14, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 23, 2008: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24: Psalm 95:1-7a; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

Psalm 95:1-7a Oh come, let us sing unto Jehovah; Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; Let us make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. For Jehovah is a great God, And a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, and he made it; And his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before Jehovah our Maker: For he is our God, And we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

I like to have a window seat when I fly, because I enjoy seeing the world from a different perspective. It is amazing to see how the mountains look from above. Like crumbled blankets lying on the ground, the mountains are not imposing barriers from that point of view. Major highways look a little girl’s hair ribbons scattered on the floor and cars are as small as ants. I love to find shapes in ponds, which appear to be little more than puddles. I once say a pond shaped like a heart and wondered if it was meant to be that way.

It is fun watching as you fly out of or into a city to see if you can recognize buildings and neighborhoods as you climb away from the earth. It is harder than you might think because the airplane is traveling too fast. Large places, like malls and schools, are more visible, but so many houses look the same from the sky. It is also hard to know if you are even flying over the right place. Though you are headed in a specific direction, the airplane may have to go in a slightly different direction during take off. Your house might be on the opposite side of the plane or not at all in view. But it is fun to try.

I also like to try to figure out where we are while we are in the air. Sometimes it is possible to pick out landmarks, but that is even hard to do. The plane does not necessarily fly a direct route from one city to the next. The pilot has to follow certain traffic patterns which may be hundreds of miles off the expectation. The United States does not have physical borders around the states like you might see on a map. You can not tell when you are moving from one state to another. Even the geographic boundaries can be deceiving. A river is not necessarily the river you think it is. The road is not necessarily the road you think it is. They all look very similar from the sky. So, you may think you are flying over a specific place when you are really hundreds of miles away.

It makes me feel very insignificant. If the Rocky Mountains, which tower over the earth, look like nothing from the sky, how can I ever imagine myself to be grand in the scheme of things? Flying over the ocean is almost frightening when you realize that there is nothing but water in every direction for hundreds or even thousands of miles. Human beings are impossible to see from a plane traveling high in the sky. We really are very inconsequential. When we re on the ground, in the midst of a city, walking through our own neighborhoods, we seem to have conquered the world. Yet, when we are flying overhead, it is hard for us to even know where exactly we are located.

I was awed by the immenseness of the earth when I fly, because from high in the sky it is obvious that we are just a small part of something incredible. I am even more awed by the fact that it was made by God. And though God made the heavens and the earth, though He created the vast oceans, the land and all that lives here, though He controls it all with His hands—He also knows my name. He gave me that name, child of God, daughter of the Most High. As I sit on that airplane feeling rather insignificant, I realize that through Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior, the God of all creation has given me a share of His eternal kingdom which is even more awesome than anything I can see on earth.


November 17, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 23, 2008: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24: Psalm 95:1-7a; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

Ephesians 1:15-23 For this cause I also, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which is among you, and the love which ye show toward all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to that working of the strength of his might which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

I don’t remember where I saw it, but I remember an interesting scene from a television show. It was starring a woman and her mother-in-law. As is typical for many of those sitcom relationships, the man’s mother is always a buttinsky, with plenty of advice for the wife. Marie on “Everybody Loves Raymond” is constantly telling Debra what to do and how to clean. I’m not sure if she was the one, but the mother-in-law offered the son’s wife a pile of articles clipped from magazines, “to help you learn.” She didn’t like the way the daughter-in-law took care of her home, husband and children, so found ways to ‘enlighten’ stealthily, as if the daughter-in-law could not see through the façade.

I suppose I’ve done the same thing, although not usually about housework. If I find an article online that I think would help a friend, I send them a link. I don’t know how these are received. Perhaps they are seen with the same offense Debra has when Marie makes a suggestion to her. Perhaps the recipient knows that I sent it with a good and right motive, like Marie and those other sitcom mother-in-laws claim to have. If we have knowledge about something, we want to enlighten others about it. However, our desire to enlighten is often met with a defensive response.

When I was spending my time in the Christian chat rooms online, I saw many people who visited the rooms came with that intent. They were there to enlighten people. Anyone who disagreed about a doctrine or interpretation of biblical text was in need of teaching. Some even went so far as to say, “Only the Holy Spirit can make you see.” They would often then go on to pray for the people who disagreed, asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten them. Of course, I was the recipient of many of these prayers because I did not ‘see’ the text with the same eyes. As a matter of fact, in many cases I interpreted the text in exactly the opposite way. One of us was upside down.

I suppose that’s why I am somewhat bothered by the prayer in this passage. Paul writes, “…may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; having the eyes of your heart enlightened…” Too many people tried to ‘enlighten’ me with their perspective and their interpretation, many of which went against everything I knew and believed. Yet, Paul was not praying for the people of Ephesus to believe him; he was praying that they would know and understand what God had planned for His people.

The three things Paul desires for the Ephesians is “hope,” “riches of his glorious inheritance,” and “immeasurable greatness of his power.” Not only those three things, but that the people might “know what” they were. What is hope? What is the riches about which Paul writes? What is God’s power? Unfortunately, all three of these are often misunderstood and mischaracterized. So, as we consider the coming of the King of Kings, we are asked to consider what it means to hope. What riches are we to expect? What power is there from God? All too often, we want to put our hope in something less than Christ. We want the riches of His inheritance to be something tangible. And power. That is perhaps the hardest one for us to control. We want power. And so we pray those prayers asking for ‘enlightenment’ for those who do not see God’s grace with eyes like ours because we know if they change their mind, we will have the power.

So, we ask for a spirit of wisdom and revelation as we wait for the coming of the Lord. We live in a world where many people think they know what it will be like. There are hundreds, thousands, of books on the subject. We read these books and think that we know what God has up His sleeve, and we think ourselves as better in some way because we ‘get it.’ Yet, Paul reminds us in this passage that we do not have the power; that is for Christ alone. God will set him above all else, with the world as his footstool. And even more comforting is that Jesus will be the head of the church. We don’t need to be in control. We don’t need to have the power. God does, and He has given it to Jesus Christ to be the source of our hope and the immeasurable riches of our inheritance.


November 18, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 23, 2008: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24: Psalm 95:1-7a; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

Matthew 25:31-46 But when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all the nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats; and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or athirst, and gave thee drink? And when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? And when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least, ye did it not unto me. And these shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal life.

Based on today’s scripture, we have a negative understanding about the value of a goat in God’s eyes. After all, it sounds like the goats are all going to be sent to be sent into eternal punishment for not taking care of those who were in need. It makes it sound as if goats are unclean or unacceptable. Yet, the scriptures show us that goats were not only clean, but they were acceptable at the Temple for sacrifice.

As a matter of fact, the hair of the goat was used for the curtains in the tabernacle. This would have been true if God had deemed goats unworthy. Leviticus 16 describes the ritual involved in the Day of Atonement, at which goats play a very prominent role. The Lord told Moses that Aaron should first offer a bull for his own sins, and then he is to present two goats to the Lord before the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. One goat was chosen for sacrifice, the other was sent into the desert to be a scapegoat. The scapegoat is not immediately killed; the people lay their sins on its head and it is then sent into the wilderness. Now, both goats are sacrificed, but one is given directly to the Lord and the other is left for God to take in His time and way. The fact that goats are used in the ritual for the Day of Atonement shows us that goats are not unacceptable before the Lord.

The goats are not only acceptable as the sin offering, but the fellowship offering also includes goats. Anything that is given to God in sacrifice is expected to be worthy. It is the blood of that animal, after all, that provides for the spiritual cleansing of the people. It is through the blood that they are forgiven. It is not really a concept that we understand today, especially since in Hebrews 10 we learn that the blood of bulls and goats can not forgive sun. But for the people of ancient Israel, those goats meant life and reconciliation to God. A goat isn’t a bad thing.

As a matter of fact, according to Heifer International, goats are one of the “Seven M” animals. The most efficient use of livestock resources is found in those animals that offer meat, milk, muscle, manure, money, materials and motivation. Goats reproduce quickly, often birthing kids several times a year. The milk can be used for drinking, cooking, butter and cheese. Farms with more than one goat can provide milk, butter and cheese for sale. Goat manure makes excellent fertilizer. They are small and need less space for proper care. They eat anything, including weeds that are dangerous for other animals and people, so they are better for managing land. They can be trained to carry packs or they are strong enough to pull wagons. They can be housebroken and make rather good pets. Goat hair is used to make wool, including mohair and cashmere. These animals are certainly of some value, particularly among those families for whom one animal could mean the difference between life and death.

So, we best not take too much about the use of sheep and goats in today’s passage. However, we are reminded that until that day when Christ comes to rule over the world, it might be very difficult for us to tell the difference between those who will be chosen for eternal life and those who will be sent to eternal punishment. After all, there are many ‘good’ people in the world, people who by their own strength and ability may seem like they deserve a place in heaven. However, there is something missing. For Jesus, the ones set to the left hand are those who missed the opportunities to serve Him by serving those in need. That said, are any of us worthy? Have any of us missed even one opportunity to meet the needs of a neighbor or stranger in need? Have we turned away the helpless or forgotten the imprisoned?


November 19, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 23, 2008: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24: Psalm 95:1-7a; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.

The questions at the end of yesterday’s devotion make us stop and consider our life, an exercise we regularly do at this time of year. As the church year closes, we are reminded of the life we should be living as we wait for the coming of the Christ. Then we move into Advent to wait for the coming of the Christ child. We feel generous, perhaps because it is Christmas, but also because we’ve been reminded that the Day of the Lord will come. When He comes, He will be looking to find where justice and mercy prevails. We are more aware of the poor around us, so give to the food banks. We are well aware of our surplus, so we make donations to our favorite charities. We are reminded about how incredibly blessed we are, so we take part in projects that try to ensure a happy holiday season for others. But what happens once the holidays pass? Our generosity fades as we get back into our every day lifestyles. We forget that their needs continue throughout the year.

As I was researching the passages for this week, I came across this anonymously written poem. “I was hungry and you formed a humanities club to discuss my hunger. Thank you. I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel to pray for my release. Nice. I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance. What good did that do? I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health. But I needed you. I was homeless and you preached to me of the shelter of the love of God. I wish you had taken me home. I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me. Why didn't you stay? You seem so holy, so close to God; but I am still very hungry, lonely, cold, and still in pain. Does it matter?”

It is a very fine line we walk when we talk about the coming of Christ. We know that our salvation is dependent on the first coming of Christ: He died so that we would have eternal life. Jesus Christ was born to die, and His death won for us freedom from slavery to sin and death. This is grace, and His grace is all we need to be saved. Our good works will not win us anything. Rather, Jesus won our freedom so that we might live and love with justice and mercy as our goal. We are born again to serve our neighbors, to do what is right and good in the world in which we live.

There are three judgments found in the bible. Earthbound judgment is given by humans to humans. It is right for there to be human judges to advocate for justice and bring reconciliation between people. We judge others, sometimes wrongly but sometimes rightly. If someone is hurting another, it is our responsibility to stop them, punish them and teach them how to do right. We must be careful in the role of judge, because we are told that we will be judged with the same measure we judge others. So, we are hypocrites if we judge our neighbor and yet do the same sins.

In the spiritual realm there are two judgments. The first is the final judgment. I know that sounds backward, but the final judgment must come first. It is the judgment that came through the blood of Christ on the cross. He died to save us from ourselves. Through the cross we gain the forgiveness of sin that God promised to His people. There is nothing we can do to earn the final judgment. It is a done deal. It can’t be canceled. We can’t overcome His grace by our own power or failure. By faith we have what has been given, and that given by God’s grace.

The second spiritual judgment is the believer’s judgment. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 3. For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. But if any man buildeth on the foundation gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble; each man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself shall prove each man's work of what sort it is.” Paul goes on to say that the ones who have built with good materials will find God’s favor and those who use poor materials will still be saved, but will have nothing left to show for their life. Then, as we believers stand before the throne of God, He will see our life of faith manifest. The life that worked for justice will shine. The life that ignored the needs of others will not.

What will He find when He returns? Will He find us doing all He has called us to do, not only during Advent and Christmastime, but through the whole year long? This Sunday is Christ the King Sunday, but we are reminded in this week’s passages the type of King we are waiting to see. He is the Son of David, but also David’s Lord. He is a shepherd, as David was once a shepherd, not strong and mighty and powerful on earth, but able to overcome all things. He is the Shepherd who does the will of the Master, and He calls us to follow Him on the same path. It is a path of justice and mercy through service, a life of faith lived out by God’s grace. While we should ask the questions and ponder this story, we need not fear the Day of the Lord or our failures because God is faithful to His promises. But as we enter into the season of Advent, we would do well to consider if our life is manifesting the grace we have been given, not only in this season but all the year through.


November 20, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 30, 2008: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

Isaiah 64:1-9 Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might quake at thy presence, as when fire kindleth the brushwood, and the fire causeth the waters to boil; to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence! When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, the mountains quaked at thy presence. For from of old men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen a God besides thee, who worketh for him that waiteth for him. Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou wast wroth, and we sinned: in them have we been of long time; and shall we be saved? For we are all become as one that is unclean, and all our righteousnesses are as a polluted garment: and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee; for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us by means of our iniquities. But now, O Jehovah, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore, O Jehovah, neither remember iniquity for ever: behold, look, we beseech thee, we are all thy people.

We live in Texas and in Texas football is king. Some of our local schools are in the playoffs, and though few of them are expected to go far this season, it is still exciting to hear about each win. The stadiums are full of enthusiastic fans, all cheering on their team. People who may not be interested in the games during the regular season are going out of their way to be in on the playoff run. For some football fans, it doesn’t even matter if their team falls—they will cheer for another team that is going farther in post season play. While the team does matter, for many people it is simply about the football.

Football is a game that mirrors warfare. George Carlin, in describing the differences between baseball and football said, “In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy's defensive line.” So, motivation for the team from the cheerleaders and the fans is often very aggressive. They make loud noises, stomp on the bleachers and yell “Fight, fight, fight!”

In the beginning of the football game, the teams are welcomed onto the field by waiting fans that hold up a sign designed to put fear in the hearts of the other team. These signs have catchy phrases like “Squash the Rattlers!” or “Bury the Trojans!” Different organizations are given the responsibility of making the signs and holding them for team to run through. They work for days after school painting their signs and then gather together the night of the game to hold the sign for their team. The football players gather behind the sign, waiting for the perfect moment to tear through the paper, screaming their battle cry. It is almost heartbreaking to think of how much work went into those signs when you see how they are destroyed so quickly and thoroughly by the anxious football players. They punch holes in the paper and then rip through, ready to face their opponent on the field.

I thought of this when I read the scripture for today. I can almost imagine the fans in the stands screaming for the coming of the Lord while the enemy waits in expectation with fear and trembling. That’s how we want the opposing team to feel when our team comes out on the field. Isaiah and the people of Israel were feeling abandoned by God. Where was He in the midst of their troubles? Why is Jerusalem in ruins? This prayer begs Yahweh to make Himself known to them and to their enemy so that His authority is without question. Isaiah asks for forgiveness and reconciliation. In the end, that is a much different reason for tearing open the heavens, one that will bring peace rather than war. Football may be king in Texas, but the King for whom we wait during the season of Advent, which begins on Sunday, November 30th, is a king of mercy and grace.


November 21, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 30, 2008: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, Thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; Thou that sittest above the cherubim, shine forth. Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up thy might, And come to save us. Turn us again, O God; And cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved. O Jehovah God of hosts, How long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people? Thou hast fed them with the bread of tears, And given them tears to drink in large measure. Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbors; And our enemies laugh among themselves. Turn us again, O God of hosts; And cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved. It is burned with fire, it is cut down: They perish at the rebuke of thy countenance. Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, Upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself. So shall we not go back from thee: Quicken thou us, and we will call upon thy name.

We have been rearranging our living room. Bruce took a few days vacation and Zack is at a convention, so it was a good time to do a lot of work in the house. We have been cleaning in the process, getting into the corners hidden by furniture for way too long. We have dusted ever surface that might catch the dust. We also had some furniture to paint. As long as we had the room in chaos, with furniture being moved all around, we decided to also deep clean the carpet. It has been a lot of work, but certainly worth the sore muscles. Our room is not only clean, it seems bigger and more comfortable.

This type of upheaval is difficult for our kitties. Neither one has managed to get much sleep in the past two days, although Felix is dealing with the change much better than Tigger. Tigger doesn’t really mind the furniture moving, but he is deathly afraid of those loud and ugly machines that clean the floor. He usually runs away from the vacuum cleaner, but he was even more upset by the carpet cleaner. It has the same basic shape of a vacuum cleaner, but is larger and makes multiple strange noises. Yet, he’s very curious about all that has been happening. He wants to know what is going on, but he doesn’t want to be in the room with the machines. So, poor Tigger has been running away as soon as the machines start and he wanders back soon after they start again.

Unfortunately, we haven’t always been done with the machine when he comes back. We often had to take a break to clean out the dirty water and fill the cleaner solution. So, as soon as he is back in the room, sniffing around at the clean carpet and the newly positioned furniture, we turn the on switch again, sending him fleeing to the upstairs to wait until it gets quiet again. He would have been better off just taking a nap upstairs while we were working, but he’s too curious. He wants to be with us. He wants to know what’s going on. He just can’t stand being in the presence of those nasty machines.

Tigger is definitely comforted by being in our presence. When things are chaotic, as they have been this week, he is insistent on being nearby. He wants to know that we are here, that we aren’t going to leave him. Now, Tigger has never had to move like Felix, but he’s still very upset by such big changes. He’s already beginning to love the new configuration; like Felix, he’s found a new favorite place to sleep. Through it all, however, Tigger wants to feel safe. And he feels safe when he is near those he loves.

Today’s passage is a song of lament, and it appears to be from the time when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians. It is a cry to God by the whole people in a time of distress. Like the people in Isaiah’s story yesterday, the people of Israel in today’s passage are crying out for God to show His face to them once again. They knew that their troubles were because God had turned away. Now they sought His face, His countenance, upon them. If God shined in their world and on their lives, everything would be fine.

We can respond to trouble one of two ways. We can look into ourselves and find only despair or we can cry out to the only one who can make a difference. Israel cried out to God. They sought His help in their needs rather than falling into hopelessness. They knew hope was found in their God. Somehow Tigger knew that his hope rested in us. As soon as the noise was gone, even though the machine was still in the room, he came to be with us. He sought the comfort of our presence, just as Israel sought the comfort of God’s presence. We too, in these dark days leading to Christmas can respond to the world in which we live with despair or we can wait hopefully for the One who brings God’s presence into our world, Jesus Christ.


November 24, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 30, 2008: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

1 Corinthians 1:3-9 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus; that in everything ye were enriched in him, in all utterance and all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye be unreproveable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

As I prepare to write each day, I look back in the archives of A WORD FOR TODAY to see if I’ve written about the scripture some time in the past. There is a good chance that I have, particularly with the more popular scriptures we use. It is interesting to see how I saw the text on that day. When a text is used over and over again, it is more obvious how the circumstances in my life and in the world affect the way the scriptures speak into the situation. One day I might find comfort in a text that challenges me on another day. It just depends how I’m seeing the world, my life and our God on that particular day. Sometimes the devotion from the past is as relevant today as it was on that other day, so I edit and repost it to remind us of that message. Sometimes the devotion spurs other thoughts or does not touch me at all, so I begin to write something new for this day.

Unfortunately, I often discover that my links are wrong, and I’ve found myself reading a devotion that is not related to the text of the day. Today, instead of taking me to a devotion on the 1 Corinthians text, the link took me to a story using Luke. Despite the mistake, it was a good devotion to read, and appropriate for our message for today.

The story came from August 2004, when our world was highly concerned with intelligence that was discovering terrorist threats in the United States. This particular threat had to do with concern over the financial structure of the world, with several major corporations targeted. Our eyes are turned away from terrorists, but today we are dealing with a new concern over the financial structure of the world. Major corporations around the world are falling apart and are in need of aid. The latest financial institution to receive aid is Citigroup. Interestingly, Citigroup was also involved with that threat four years ago.

In New York City, St. Peter Lutheran Church shares a city block with the Citigroup Center. As I understand, this church has been built right into the building’s structure. There are glass windows through which visitors to the Citigroup building can view the worship in the sanctuary. The website for St. Peter’s describes it thus: “The building is an anchor of serenity in - but not a withdrawal from - the sea of unpredictable turmoil around us.” There is an irony that might be lost on the people who work daily in this building. The church, God, is dwelling in the heart of this financial institution, yet most of the people who work there daily watch from the outside, if they even pay attention. These people are blessed, because they have a tangible reminder of a faithful presence of God in a world that is filled with uncertainty and disappointment.

Most of us aren’t so blessed. We pass churches daily, but they often go by without a thought. We are busy with church things, active with programs and regular attendees of worship, yet we rarely think of the God who is in the midst of our daily lives. We forget that God is faithful not only in the spiritual things but also in the real, tangible things we deal with every day. As the financial crisis reaches our own lives, we worry and fear about our future, not allowing God to break our worry and comfort us in our fear.

And so, hear the words of Paul who was speaking to a different people in a different time and place, but they were people dealing with their own crises. It doesn’t even matter what crisis they faced. Every generation of humans had to deal with trouble. Every generation worries and doubts and fears the future. Every person from the beginning of time wonders if they will make it through today. We can approach our days blindly, missing out of the God in our midst, or we can live in the grace we have been given. We know that our life is different because we have faith in Jesus Christ, but do we live that way? God is faithful. We might not always understand His plan for our lives or our world in this day, but as we dwell in Him daily, we’ll see more clearly that we are blessed by God’s presence even if we don’t think we have tangible evidence. We are the evidence, God’s people living faithfully in a chaotic world. We are called to be the Church in the midst of uncertainty and disappointment.


November 25, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 30, 2008: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

Mark 13:24-37 But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send forth the angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven. Now from the fig tree learn her parable: when her branch is now become tender, and putteth forth its leaves, ye know that the summer is nigh; even so ye also, when ye see these things coming to pass, know ye that he is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, until all these things be accomplished. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. But of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. It is as when a man, sojourning in another country, having left his house, and given authority to his servants, to each one his work, commanded also the porter to watch. Watch therefore: for ye know not when the lord of the house cometh, whether at even, or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or in the morning; lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.

We have been working hard at rearranging our living space and making changes to furniture. We’ve moved out some pieces to make the living room more comfortable for conversation and television viewing. It seems odd because we are used to having furniture cover every single wall, but now there is so much space. The other problem is that I have to decide how to arrange my Christmas decorations for the coming holiday season.

I have a lot of Christmas decorations. I’ve been collecting pretty things for as long as I can remember. Some even go back to my high school days. The new living room configuration is going to make it more difficult to display all my things. I usually set up a large village with a dozen houses and miniature people. I also put up a nice nativity display, with a stable and all the characters from the Christmas story. There is a story lady rabbit with two rabbit children I put up with books and other decorations. There is no longer enough places to put all these things along with the many individual pieces I love. So, I’ve been looking over the furniture that is left in the house, trying to decide what to do.

It might seem unimportant, especially since so many of us are trying not to focus so much on the secular aspects of Christmas. I think it is important that we remember that the days leading up to the Nativity are a special season of the church year called Advent. We go overboard during the holidays. We eat too much, buy too many gifts and go to too many parties. We put up too many lights and make too many cookies. In the midst of all of this, we forget that there is more to the season.

Yet, these things that we do, we do with a heart for the God for whom we wait. We put out our favorite nativities and other decorations because they set apart this time as something special. Our Christmas trees may have become plastic pre-lit trees covered with Hallmark ornaments, but that tree has a special meaning and purpose at Christmastime. The evergreen reminds us of the everlasting God. The lights on the tree remind us that Jesus is the light of the world. The first Christmas trees were covered with good things of the earth like fruits and nuts, showing the world the bounty of God’s creation. The star points toward the story of Christ and the wise men who became the first people, gentiles, to worship Him. It is not bad for us to go out of our way to make this time of year very special for the people we love and for those who we invite into our home to celebrate. It is good, however, to remember that there is more to it than glitz and glitter.

Advent is a time not only to wait for the child, but also to watch for Christ to come again. It is about seeing God's hand in the world around us, even in the secular aspects of the world. God created the whole world to glorify Him, and He is glorified when we see Him in this world. So, as we prepare, we look for Christ. We watch for Him. We see Him in the faces of the other shoppers, in the hearts of those for whom we are baking the cookies. We live the Christ-spirit so that those who see only the greed and evil in this world might see the light of Christ and know that God still dwells with His people in this world.

We get caught up in the world and do not leave time for God. In some ways Advent is like it will be in the end times: darkness, confusion and chaos. Yet, in the midst of all of this, God still dwells among us and we need only stay awake during it and we will see Him. We stay awake by watching, praying, studying, worshipping and fellowshipping with other believers even while we are busy doing all the work that will make the season merry for those we love. We need not give up decorating and baking, but let us remember to look for Christ and shine His light for others to see, for He is with us always, just as He promised.


November 26, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 30, 2008: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

November 30th is generally recognized as the feast day for St. Andrew, although some churches have transferred it to December 1st since Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. Even though most churches will not celebrate this feast day in worship on Sunday, I thought Andrew’s story is one that we can, and should tell once again.

John 1:35-42 Again on the morrow John was standing, and two of his disciples; and he looked upon Jesus as he walked, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God! And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. And Jesus turned, and beheld them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? And they said unto him, Rabbi (which is to say, being interpreted, Teacher), where abideth thou? He saith unto them, Come, and ye shall see. They came therefore and saw where he abode; and they abode with him that day: it was about the tenth hour. One of the two that heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He findeth first his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messiah (which is, being interpreted, Christ). He brought him unto Jesus. Jesus looked upon him, and said, Thou art Simon the son of John: thou shalt be called Cephas (which is by interpretation, Peter).

Andrew is not a forgotten disciple, like perhaps Thaddeus, about whom we hear so little. But Andrew is Simon’s younger brother and is so often found in his shadow. Peter plays such a prominent role in the ministry of Jesus and in the establishment of the Church, we forget that he was not the first among the disciples to follow Jesus. Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus called both Simon Peter and Andrew at the same time. Luke (5:1-11) tells us that Jesus went to the shore and found a boat in which He could sit to teach the people who were crowding onto the shoreline. That boat belonged to Simon Peter. After He was done teaching, He told Peter to take the boat out into the lake to fish, and though they were exhausted from a terrible night with a small catch, Peter did as He said. They took in so many fish that Peter had to call another boat, the one with James and John, to help haul in the fish. It is odd that we don’t hear about Andrew in Luke’s story, although he was probably there. Just one example of how Andrew lived in the shadow of his older brother Peter.

As we read John’s story, we wonder how it could be different. John, being the youngest of the Apostles, probably understood how Andrew felt, always looked upon as dependent of those older and supposedly wiser. John’s story does not conflict with the reports in the other Gospels. Instead, it is likely that John reports what happened first. John the Baptist was preaching throughout Galilee, and it is likely that the fishermen heard the message he came to bring. Andrew was among the disciples of John the Baptist and was there when John proclaimed that Jesus was the Lamb of God. The meetings at the boats, in Matthew, Mark and Luke were probably not the first time those fishermen had heard of Jesus and it may have not even been the first time they heard Jesus speak. They knew about Jesus from John and from the others who were following John the Baptist.

So, John the Evangelist gives us the story of how Peter first met Jesus. His brother Andrew heard John the Baptist proclaim Jesus as the Lamb of God and thought that perhaps this was the Messiah for whom they were waiting. He went to his big brother Simon to tell him about what he had discovered. “Come and see” Andrew said, and Simon Peter followed. After the invitation, Andrew falls back into the shadow of Simon as Jesus gives him the name Peter and calls him to follow.

We do know from the stories that Andrew was a man of faith and humility. He did not question God’s grace, but actively defied the skepticism of some of his fellow disciples. In John 6, we hear the story of how Jesus preached to a large crowd late into the day and the disciples were concerned about the physical well-being of all those people. Jesus told them to feed the people, but Philip doubted they could do so. “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Andrew, however, pointed out a little boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish. This, to the more knowledgeable of us, was a ridiculous thing to do. After all, what good could five loaves and two fish do for five thousand people? Andrew had faith that Jesus could use it, and Jesus did.

In John 12, John tells another story about Andrew. It was late in the ministry of Jesus. As a matter of fact, He had already ridden through the gates of Jerusalem in triumph on a donkey. The people knew that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead and they had big plans for Him. He was their king! Alleluia! But Jesus knew this was the beginning of the end and the Jewish leaders began to scheme. In verse 20, John writes, “Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast.” These were probably people drawn to the ideals of Judaism (monotheism and morality), but not willing to abide by the requirements. So, they worshipped in the synagogues but were not Jews. These Greeks wanted to meet Jesus. They went to Philip, but instead of going straight to Jesus, Philip went to Andrew. Andrew then took Philip to tell Jesus. Philip may have questioned whether or not Jesus would want to speak to foreigners, but Andrew did not question. If Jesus wanted to speak to the Greeks, Andrew felt He should have the opportunity. So, Andrew trusted that Jesus would deal with the situation.

Though Andrew is often found in the shadow of his older brother Simon Peter, he is one of my favorite disciples because of his faith and humility. He lived boldly, going to Jesus with ridiculous things, but Jesus takes Andrews offerings with grace and uses them powerfully. We are reminded that we do not have to be the one in the forefront. We do not have to be the one who is the leader. We can be the guy who lives in the shadows and still do great things for God. Andrew did.


November 27, 2008

Due to Thanksgiving, no WORD was posted.


November 28, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, December 7, 2008: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8

Isaiah 40:1-11 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem; and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she hath received of Jehovah's hand double for all her sins. The voice of one that crieth, Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of Jehovah; make level in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the uneven shall be made level, and the rough places a plain: and the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it. The voice of one saying, Cry. And one said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the breath of Jehovah bloweth upon it; surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand forever. O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up on a high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold, your God! Behold, the Lord Jehovah will come as a mighty one, and his arm will rule for him: Behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and will gently lead those that have their young.

I love fresh flowers, so I will take any excuse to buy some and place them around my house. I used Thanksgiving as my excuse this week. I found a lovely bouquet with sunflowers, greens and some purple flowers at the grocery store, and I used those flowers for my centerpiece. I even had enough to put a vase of flowers in the living room. I usually use a glass bowl full of clear glass stones that I fill with water and flowers for my centerpieces. Sometimes I add candles or other items appropriate for the season. For this meal, I used only three sunflowers, but I added cranberries to the bowl. It was very simple but lovely; to me it was a reminder that God is present in the midst of His creation, through His creation and for His creation.

I like to keep my centerpieces low because high bouquets in the middle of the table makes it difficult for people to carry on conversations with the people on the other end of the table. Someone is constantly leaning sideways and often speaking louder than necessary to get their point across because the listeners can’t really see that they are being addressed. I never understand why brides on those wedding televisions shows insist on large centerpieces. They are truly lovely, but they are like walls between guests. They even make it difficult to see what is happening at the head table or on the dance floor, making guests feel left out and confused.

I’m not a professional, but I do like doing floral design. I sometimes go crazy, putting unusual flowers together or using odd containers. I also like to dry some of the flowers, particularly roses, which I ten frame in shadowboxes or display in other ways. I think one of my favorite experiences, however, had to be the time I designed a floral arrangement for a festival at a church in England.

Many English churches host floral festivals. These generally happen in the spring and are a way of welcoming the warm weather and to bring the colors of the country inside the usually drab interiors of those ancient stone churches. The floral festivals aren’t competitive. Members and friends of the church volunteer to create masterpieces designed to tell a story, each one individual and beautiful. These festivals are usually accompanied by other events that help earn the necessary funds to provide after-winter maintenance on those ancient buildings.

The festival in which I participated was themed around Pentecost. The floral designers gave their impression of the Holy Spirit and the establishment of the Church in flowers. These displays were magnificent, some reaching incredibly high, others with sprays of flowers. Some people chose to fill their containers with red flowers, others white and yet others had a burst of every color of the rainbow. That’s how I approached my arrangement. I found an unusual pot stand with three arms for holding plants. I put floral foam on trays that fit into each of the arms and found flowers with every color of the rainbow. I had the flowers spraying from the top to the bottom, about five feet high altogether. I don’t recall exactly the message I was trying to portray, but along with all the other arrangements, it was a beautiful and very memorable experience.

The problem with flower arranging is that eventually the flowers all die. Even with the display has a message to convey, even if is a simple reminder of God’s presence in the midst of our world. I still have the centerpiece on my table and hopefully it will stay there for a week or longer. But, it will eventually wither and die. We live in a world that is perishable. People come and go, grass turns brown in winter, turkeys get eaten until they are nothing but bones. Yet, God is steadfast. And that faithful and loving God reminds us constantly, in the creation and through our gifts, that He is gracious and merciful, always present in the midst of our lives.


November 29, 2008


November 30, 2008