Welcome to the November 2020 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes


Topics

Saints

Praise

Wait

Repentance

Fellowship

Overcome

Fret

Faithful

Dead

Fear

Trust

Kind

Response

Witness

Story

Sin


A WORD FOR TODAY


Scripture quotes taken from the World English Bible





A WORD FOR TODAY, November 2020





November 2, 2020

“All those whom the Father gives me will come to me. He who comes to me I will in no way throw out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. This is the will of my Father who sent me, that of all he has given to me I should lose nothing, but should raise him up at the last day. This is the will of the one who sent me, that everyone who sees the Son, and believes in him, should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:37-40, WEB

While most people do not celebrate death, there seems to be a fascination with it. A drive around my neighborhood this weekend showed that to be true. One house has a line-up of gravestones, and while they all had humorous epithets, the gloomy creatures hanging from the trees were dark and creepy. Another neighbor had a dozen skeletons in their yard. One house was so full of ghosts and spooky characters that it was almost tacky. I was amazed at the number of Trick-or-treaters wearing costumes from horror movies like Freddy, Jason, Michael, and It, not only on the older people but also on toddlers.

We do not celebrate when death comes knocking on our door; we experience grief and an incredible sense of loss when someone we love dies. We are exhausted by it, especially if death took a long time coming. We are shocked when it comes by an accident or by violence. We are often afraid of what will happen in our lives, especially if the dearly departed is someone who provided support for us. We do not celebrate these deaths, although we do find the strength and courage to celebrate their lives. When we die, we tell our loved ones not to cry for us, but to go on with their lives. No matter how much we insist on the joy, death will always bring sorrow.

God never intended for death to be a fact of life. Adam and Eve made a choice, and that choice separated all humankind from the intimate relationship that they had with our Father in the Garden of Eden. But even while death became the problem, God was already working on the solution. He knew, even from the day of Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden that He would make it possible for mankind to have the eternal life He intended. He knew that the Christ would pay the price that would free God’s people from death, guaranteeing those who believe will have eternal life. As Christians we know there is a reason to celebrate the death of one of God’s people: they aren’t really dead. They live on in the Kingdom where they no longer have to rely on hope or faith because they now walk in the Garden again with their Father the Creator.

As Christians, we celebrate our deceased loved ones on All Saints’ Day, but it is actually a part of a three day celebration, a triduum honoring the dead. Christianity is a religion of light. Jesus Christ is the light of the world. The All Hallows Eve vigil liturgy and scripture is meant to point us to the light that is Christ who overcame death and darkness. All Saints Day then commemorates the Saints. In older times, the Saints honored were local martyrs with ties to specific places. As the Saints became more well known the day began to focus on those who have been beatified, the ones known and unknown who have been set aside as special because they lived good and virtuous lives. They give us an example of how to be Christian, the willingness to follow Christ anywhere and the courage to face even the most difficult times for His sake.

All Souls Day completes the triduum. This is a day of prayer for the dead. Prayer for the dead has been practiced in the Jewish as well as Christian faiths for at least a millennium. Those of us who live in the Southwestern part of the United States are familiar with a Mexican tradition that continues the celebration. It is Dia de los Muertos, which translated literally means “the Day of the Dead.” It is a celebrated on November 2nd. Families welcome back departed loved ones, sharing the joys of life with them as their memories live on. Creative and respectful altars are set up around towns at galleries, cultural centers, cemeteries and restaurants to commemorate dearly departed loved ones. People set altars up in their homes.

There is a party atmosphere on All Souls Day. They even hold the picnics in the cemetery. The Day of the Dead altars are beautiful reflections of the love that they have for those they have lost. It may seem to those outside the culture that it is a celebration of death, but for most it is a time to share familial love and to tell the stories of their past.

We have melded all this into one day. All Saints Sunday is not just a day to mourn our dead and to remember them, but it is a day to remember that we are all children of God and that some day we will join those who have come before us to dwell in God’s presence forever. We have seen the light; we celebrate our future at the Lord’s Table, where we will feast forever on God’s grace without the muck of life in our earthly flesh. We remember the great cloud of witnesses that have passed before, but we will also look forward to the day when we will be with them again. We receive the bread and wine of communion, knowing that it is only a foretaste of the feast which our loved ones already enjoy. They no longer have to hope because they have achieved what we look forward to in faith: eternity in God’s presence.

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November 3, 2020

“I will extol you, Yahweh, for you have raised me up, and have not made my foes to rejoice over me. Yahweh my God, I cried to you, and you have healed me. Yahweh, you have brought up my soul from Sheol. You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. Sing praise to Yahweh, you saints of his. Give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment. His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning. As for me, I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’ You, Yahweh, when you favored me, made my mountain stand strong; but when you hid your face, I was troubled. I cried to you, Yahweh. I made supplication to the Lord: ‘What profit is there in my destruction, if I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise you? Shall it declare your truth? Hear, Yahweh, and have mercy on me. Yahweh, be my helper.’ You have turned my mourning into dancing for me. You have removed my sackcloth, and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my heart may sing praise to you, and not be silent. Yahweh my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” Psalm 30, WEB

For our Psalm study on Sunday, I decided we should look at one that had the word “saint” in it and chose Psalm 30. We have discovered, over and over again, how the psalms we are studying are excellent prayers for the times in which we are living. I suppose that’s why the Psalms have been the prayer book of people ever since Old Testament times through every generation. This one is no exception. This is the psalm of a saint; as we listen to the Psalm, we hear our own voice praising God for His grace.

The psalm was probably written by David to be used by his son Solomon at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. David desperately wanted to build God “a house” because he was living in a permanent structure in Jerusalem while God had only the Tabernacle, a portable tent, for His dwelling place. But David had shed too much blood in his life; the story of David and Bathsheba comes to mind, but also the fact that David was a warrior. God promised to build David into a house and that one of his offspring would build the house where He would dwell among His people. David spent the rest of his life collecting the materials for the building of that Temple: gold, silver, linen, wood, stone, all of the finest quality. His heart was in this fully, no price was too high. It is no wonder he might have written this Psalm for the dedication.

We see in this psalm the reality of David’s life. He loved God and trusted Him, but he was harassed and threatened by enemies. David also knew that he was a sinner in need of God’s mercy. Isn’t that our lives, too? We love God and trust Him, but the world around us makes it hard for us to be entirely faithful. We fail. We sin. We struggle. We suffer. There are plenty of reasons why we might despair. There are times when we feel like God has abandoned us, turned His face away from us. There are times we deserve to be abandoned; we deserve to suffer the consequences of our sinfulness. This is a very personal psalm. It is a song of reorientation after the disorientation of calamity.

I suppose that’s why it struck me as being a good psalm for us to pray right now. We have been shaken, and we feel like God has perhaps abandoned us. We are threatened by forces beyond our control, not only human, but also natural and spiritual. We don’t know what to do. We are afraid. We doubt. We worry. But as saints saved by God’s grace, we are given the faith to trust that He knows what He is doing.

The psalm begins with a psalmist who is trouble. He fears shame and defeat, but prays for deliverance and protection. Though he struggles, he has faith in God. He knows he can’t save himself, so he puts himself totally in God’s hands. He writes that God “brought up my soul from Sheol” which may be an exaggeration, but David’s life was threatened repeatedly. God saved him from death more than once. He was lifted out of the pits by God’s grace.

The psalmist invites the congregation to praise. We join together with other saints – past, present, future – who are fellow worshippers. As we give thanks to God, we remember how holy He is. We don’t deserve God’s mercy because we fail over and over and over again, sometimes committing the same sins, but God’s love is greater than our failure. He turns our wailing into dancing. His anger is brief, His favor is forever, we weep for a short time, but we will sing for all eternity. We understand these words from the Christian perspective because we know that has saints, even though we continue to sin, that God has promised an eternal house in which we will dwell. God will not let us fall.

David felt secure. He knew that we experience the good life and are secure thanks to God’s benevolence. God does hide His face when we sin and we feel abandoned, but our dismay leads to an outcry. David bargains with God, reminding Him that ghosts cannot worship. Of course, though sometimes David prophetically points to an eternity to come, the Jews did not have an understanding of an afterlife in his day. Eternal life came as they were remembered by their offspring, so he prayed for salvation for the sake of God’s name. God answered his prayer and turned his wailing into dancing. David ends the psalm jubilantly, praising God’s name.

We are reminded that though we are saints today, we may have experiences that leave us shaken. Do not grow presumptuous about God’s grace. God will discipline those He loves. But we can trust that God will make things right. We do not understand the Old Testament fear of death because we know God’s promise of eternal life. The cross defeated death and through faith we will continue to praise God into eternity. We will fail. We will sin. We will struggle. We will suffer. There are plenty of reasons why we might despair. We are afraid. We doubt. We worry. But as saints saved by God’s grace, we are given the faith to trust that He knows what He is doing. The world around us might seem out of control, but as we pray this psalm we are reminded that God is in control and He will make all things right.

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November 4, 2020

Scriptures for November 8, 2020, Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost: Amos 5:18-24; Psalm 70; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

“Let all those who seek you rejoice and be glad in you. Let those who love your salvation continually say, ‘Let God be exalted!’” Psalm 70:4, WEB

Texas can be flood or drought in a matter of moments. One year our streams and rivers are flowing over the banks and the next is so dry that dust storms fill the air. The flash floods can close roads, wash away cars, and cause destruction to property. The droughts can threaten our water supply and cause conservation restrictions. We are currently under drought conditions, but just one hurricane could change that. It is amazing to see how quickly our world can change. Sometimes it just takes a little thing to turn things around.

I decided a few days ago to post a thanksgiving meme daily throughout November. I’ve done similar challenges in years past. While thanksgiving is something that we should do daily, it helps to have moments when we put extra focus on it, especially when we are in a time of struggle. It has been fun searching through my photos to find just the right ones and then through dozens of websites with quotes to use for creating the memes. I have more than enough stockpiled at this point that I may take the practice well into December. I hope that it will help others take the time to be thankful in these days because a little gratefulness can change the world.

People are merciful when they are thankful for the mercy they have received. We are generous when we are thankful for the things that we have. There are two times when we are not so generous: when we are afraid and when we are comfortable. When we are afraid, it is hard to see anything for which we can be thankful. When we are threatened by forces outside ourselves, we hold on to the little we have, trying to ensure that we have enough for tomorrow. We can’t take care of the needs of others because we are too worried about our own needs. This is true of mercy as well as money. It is hard to be merciful if we are afraid that we will not receive mercy. It is understandable that people are not generous when they are operating in a state of self-protection. We can’t give a hand to someone else when we are hanging by a thread.

However, it is more troubling to know that we are sometimes less than generous when we are in a state of comfort. That is exactly when we should be most generous. We have more than enough, but we take it for granted. We forget to be thankful. We forget about those times when we were afraid. We don’t necessarily ignore the needs of others, but we just don’t see it because things are so good for us. Unfortunately, we tend to avoid those who are unhealthy when we are healthy. When we are full, we steer clear of those who are hungry. When we are safe, we lock our doors against all those whose own lack of safety might make us feel threatened. In our comfort we see no need to be thankful. Our lack of thankfulness makes us blind to our neighbors and apathetic about their problems. Thankfulness leads to compassion, mercy, generosity.

The people in Amos’s day were not living thankful. They were going to temple, singing hymns and following the rituals, but they weren’t worshipping God with their lives. They were perhaps both comfortable and afraid, looking forward to the great and terrible day of the Lord. They were doing what they believed is right: going to the temple and the synagogue on the Sabbath, singing all the right songs and presenting all the right sacrifices. But they had lost touch with the God they claimed to worship. They were not pursuing justice or giving mercy.

The message Amos brought to them is one we need to hear also. We’ve forgotten to live thankful. We are comfortable in our worship, attending services on Sunday but forgetting about God in our daily lives. We are ignoring the needs of our neighbors, both out of fear for our future and in our comfort. But God calls us to always walk in thanksgiving, not to offer sacrifices according to our duty or when we are seeking God’s blessing. He desires mercy, not sacrifice. He is looking for His people to live in faith, to go forth as a raging torrent, changing the world with justice and peace.

We are racing toward the end of the church year; as much as we don’t want to admit it, we are quickly nearing Advent and Christmas. During the last few weeks of the year we look toward the future, not tomorrow, the coming holidays or even next year. We will be looking forward to the fulfillment of all God’s promises, the coming day of the Lord and the eternity that is ours by faith in Jesus Christ.

Some days it seems like we are racing toward the end of time.

There are as many ideas about the end times as there are people discussing them. Whole systems of theology have evolved around the study of eschatology, much of it with confusing language and troubling imagery. There have been charismatic leaders who have taken their understanding of the end times to such an extreme that whole communities have died in their leadership trying to force God’s hand. We can name some of the more famous false messiahs who have led their people to the grave following orders down a path of destruction and death.

Some people look forward to the end times with giddiness and expectation. They believe that they have it all right and that everyone else has it wrong. They believe that they will be among a small number of people saved, that they are a lonely remnant in the world that will be destroyed for lack of belief. They stand up against anyone that disagrees, often to the point of violence. The charismatic leaders have such control over their people that they are willing to even die for their sake. When the leader says “Drink this” they drink, believing that it will take them to heaven.

I am confident in my salvation not because I have all the answers, but because I trust in God’s promises. I confess that I look at some who claim to be Christian and wonder about their faith, but I don’t condemn anyone because I’m not God. I look around the world and cry out to the Lord daily, “Come, Lord Jesus,” but I also know that we have to be careful about looking forward to that day with giddy excitement. The end of those who trust in God is joyous because we’ll be with Him for eternity, but it won’t be a pleasant experience.

Some people think they can force God’s hand; “See God, we made everything ready for you. Come!” Again, I confess, that I wish I could have made it happen. I’ve been joking that Jesus would come on November 2nd so we would not have to live through the election and its aftermath. I was obviously wrong, but I can still trust that God knows what He is doing. Some demand that God run on their schedule; they want to be the generation that will see the fulfillment of the promises. I wouldn’t mind seeing Jesus come on the clouds. I’m ready to dwell in God’s presence for eternity. However, no human being knows the mind of God so well as to direct God’s hand. We are called to trust in Him, not to test Him or demand that He satisfy our expectations, even when the circumstances do not go in our favor. Trust means believing that God is in control.

Amos says, “Woe to you who desire the day of Yahweh!” We have been reminded in the past few weeks that while we are saints with faith in God, we are still sinners in need of salvation. Eternity for us is both a present reality and a future hope, yet we have no reason to believe that the judgment that awaits us at the end of all days will be pleasant for us. We don’t deserve to be protected from times of trouble, for we are just as guilty of sin as our neighbor. All of us deserve to be left behind. Thanks to Jesus, we won’t be.

The more I study the psalms, the more I realize that the key to living life in this time and in this place is to be thankful, even when we face times of difficulty. The psalmists often lament their circumstances, but in most of the psalms they also praise God and thank Him for His mercy even before they see the answers to their prayers. They pray in confidence that God is in control. They often pray with the expectation that God will answer their prayers in their way, but they are always confident that God will answer according to His promises.

Charles Spurgeon wrote in a sermon for October 29, 1871, “Young painters were anxious, in olden times, to study under the great masters. They concluded that they should more easily attain to excellence if they entered the schools of eminent men. Men have paid large premiums that their sons may be apprenticed or articled to those who best understood their trades or professions; now, if any of us would learn the sacred art and mystery of prayer, it is well for us to study the productions of the greatest masters of that science. I am unable to point out one who understood it better than did the psalmist David. So well did he know how to praise, that his psalms have become the language of good men in all ages; and so well did he understand how to pray, that if we catch his spirit, and follow his mode of prayer, we shall have learned to plead with God after the most prevalent sort. Place before you, first of all, David’s Son and David’s Lord, that most mighty of all intercessors, and, next to Him, you shall find David to be one of the most admirable models for your imitation.”

Today’s Psalm has been ascribed to David, and it is generally agreed that it was written when David was in the later days of his life. David was a mighty king, but even mighty kings face times of difficulty. This is especially true when they are nearing the end of their lives. They are seen by enemies, both close and far away, as weakened and unable to hold on to their kingdoms. David chose his son Solomon to be heir, but David’s other sons wanted the kingdom, too. Though Israel was threatened on all sides by foreign armies, the most difficult battles happened within the walls of his own palace. David’s sons fought against one another and against their father. Amnon raped Absalom’s sister, so Absalom killed Amnon. Absalom rebelled against David and was killed on the battlefield. Adonijah, as the then oldest son, expected to be heir but was rejected for Solomon. He tried twice to gain control, but was eventually killed by Solomon.

It sounds like the script from a soap opera, but it isn’t unusual to hear stories about intrigue in royal families. It doesn’t take much study into British history to see brother against brother and mother against son. Murder, adultery, greed, dishonesty and war have been the part of all civilizations. The end justifies the means and the end is always power.

David was far from perfect, but in his life we see a man who learned what it meant to be humble, to turn to God in times of trouble and to praise Him even if the circumstances seem impossible to overcome. David was faithful and faith-filled. We might not have a brother or sister, son or daughter, threatening our lives and our kingdom, but we all face times of difficulty and people who wish to see us harmed. How do we respond? Do we turn to God and seek His guidance and deliverance? Or do we try to go forward on our own strength?

I once did a bible study on the word “seek.” I quickly learned that trying to read every incidence of the word “seek” in the scriptures was overwhelming, so my focus turned to the story of Saul and David. I found that every time Saul sought something he was chasing David and his own self-interests. David, however, was always seeking after God. That’s why Saul lost his anointing and David was blessed by God. Saul’s line would never last, but David’s would last forever. David was not perfect. The story of Bathsheba shows us his failures. The intrigue in his house and the battles between his sons was a fulfillment of the warning given to David because of his own sins. However, David was faithful through it all, looking to God and seeking His help. He is an example we can follow, remembering that we too are imperfect but that God is present in our lives, ready to deliver those of us who praise Him in the midst of our troubles.

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 a bridezilla, 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. We forget to be thankful.

I tend to over pack when we travel. 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 am always 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 while I am waiting for something. I keep 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.

This week’s Gospel story never really made sense to me, probably because I’m an overpacker. 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 prepared for the possibility that the bridegroom might be delayed. They prepared for the “just in case.”

In the epistle lesson, Paul wrote about the expectation that Christ was coming immediately. They were all waiting anxiously, certain 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 has seen signs since the days of Jesus. There are always those who lose hope because their interpretation of the signs do not come true, so 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 and 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 their faith that the bridegroom would come, renewing their hope even when it seemed like He would never come.

It is especially hard when our circumstances are difficult and uncertain. This is why we need to face each day praising God with thanksgiving. We may cry out to God for His intercession, but we need to do so with trust because God will make all things right in His way and in His time.

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.

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. It is easy to get caught up in our fear or take our blessings for granted. 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 we are not living according to His Word and our faith. 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.

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 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, thanking Him even before we see the fulfillment of His promises. David was faithful and faith-filled. We are called to be the same.

How will you prepare for the Day of the LORD? How will you prepare for the coming of the Bridegroom? Do you have an expectation that will disappoint if it does not come to pass or are you prepared to wait patiently in faith for God to be faithful in His time and way? God blesses the humble and lifts up those who need Him. Instead of worshipping God with our rituals and offerings, let’s keep our eyes on God and rejoice in His promises, praising Him for all the blessings fulfilled and those that are still to come. The Day of the LORD will set us free to live in His light forever, even if it comes in a way we do not expect. As we wait with our eyes fixed on God, thankfulness will lead us to compassion, mercy, and generosity. If we would all take the time to be thankful in these days, we’ll see a little gratefulness change the world.

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November 5, 2020

“But if the wicked turn from all his sins that he has committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him: in his righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? says the Lord Yahweh; and not rather that he should return from his way, and live?” Ezekiel 18:21-23, WEB

“Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder treason and plot. We see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot! Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent to blow up king and parliament. Three score barrels were laid below to prove old England's overthrow. By God’s mercy he was catch’d with a darkened lantern and burning match. So, holler boys, holler boys, let the bells ring. Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king. And what shall we do with him? Burn him!”

This little ditty, a nursery rhyme (!), recalls a time in England that was filled with turmoil and strife. James I was king, it was an age of Civil war. It was a time when the people were fighting for their doctrinal beliefs. James was a Protestant and Parliament was his puppet. A group of Roman Catholic men were willing to do anything to keep England under the rule of the Pope. They hatched the Gunpowder Plot. The intention was to blow up Parliament on the day when James was there to open the proceedings for the year. Everyone would be present, and all would die. A new Roman Catholic king would be selected and England would be Catholic forever.

The conspirators filled the basement of Parliament with gunpowder, but Guy did something foolish. He had a relative who was a Member of Parliament. He did not want to kill someone from his own family, so he sent a note warning this man to stay away. The plot was exposed; Guy Fawkes was arrested and tortured. He eventually gave the names of the other conspirators, and was then executed for his crime. Today is Guy Fawkes Day. They celebrate the end of the Gunpowder plot by blowing things up; they celebrate fireworks and bonfires.

Guy will always be remembered for his crime against the king. That’s the way human justice works. We remember the failings of those around us. God’s justice is much different. We are unable to be righteous before God, and yet He sent His Son to be righteous for us. When we clothe ourselves in His righteousness, God no longer sees the offenses we commit, but He sees Christ in us. God does not remember our sins, He rejoices in our repentance. Turn to Him today, wear His righteousness, and live.

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November 6, 2020

“If therefore there is any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassion, make my joy full by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through rivalry or through conceit, but in humility, each counting others better than himself; each of you not just looking to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.” Philippians 2:1-4, WEB

I was driving down the highway a few months ago and noticed a billboard. It was for a divorce attorney in town. The billboard showed a measuring tape with the words, “When you need more than six feet.” I can understand the sentiment; I am sure that a lot of people were struggling with the constant presence of people in their households.

I confess that I’ve been worried as my husband’s retirement nears whether I would be able to stand having him around all the time. I recall a visit to my in-laws shortly after my father-in-law retired. My husband was deployed and my daughter and I traveled to family to get through the separation. I scheduled a few days at my in-law’s house so they could spend time with their granddaughter. It seemed like a mistake after a day or so. My mother-in-law was unpleasant and I thought she hated me. I realized several years later that it wasn’t about me at all. She was trying to learn how to live with her husband who was underfoot all the time.

So, I have worried that my husband’s retirement would cause me to be similarly unpleasant. I’ve joked that I would need to get a job just to get out away from him occasionally. Then the pandemic hit and we were forced to find a way to live together. We are thankful that his job has always been possible remotely, and there’s no sign that they will return to the office anytime soon. We share an office space which has caused a few inconveniences, but it hasn’t been bad. I confess that there are days when his meetings make writing difficult, but we haven’t needed a divorce lawyer.

Charles Swindoll has a name for this phenomenon: the porcupine syndrome. Though it is true for all types of groups, he uses it specifically in reference to Christian groups. He says that we are “like a pack of porcupines on a frigid wintry night. The cold drives us closer together in a tight bundle to keep warm. As we begin to snuggle really close, our sharp quills cause us to jab and prick each other – a condition that forces us apart. But before long we start getting cold, so we move back to warm again, only to stab and puncture each other once more.”

He added in his book “Strengthening your Grip” this poem: “To dwell above with saints we love, that will be grace and glory. To live below with saints we know, that’s another story.” We are human and no matter how much we love one another according to God’s Word, we still are able to drive each other crazy. We all have habits that grate on our neighbors’ nerves and the closer we get to them the more the bother us. This is why the divorce lawyers are having a field day with families falling apart because they are spending too much time together.

In Pastor Swindoll’s example, the “cold” can be interpreted as times of struggle. When we face persecution as a Church, we gather together to encourage and support one another. Yet, it doesn’t take very long for that closeness to cause us to see the faults of our brothers and sisters more clearly. Satan uses the opportunity to cause hurt and division, driving some away from the fellowship of believers. At the moments when we need each other the most, we push each other away.

Pastor Swindoll asks the question, “How can we break ye olde porcupine syndrome?” He then says, “The answer is in one word involvement. Or, to use the biblical term, it is fellowship.” Paul seemed to be aware of the porcupine syndrome when he wrote to the congregation at Philippi. They faced hardship but so did Paul. He wanted them to keep their eyes and their hearts on the joys of following Jesus Christ. He encouraged them to find the grace to work together, to glorify God through their difficulties. We know that the sharp quills of our own sinfulness cause others to move away, but we are encouraged to be humble, to serve each other with grace. Through fellowship, not only with one another but also the Holy Spirit, we will dwell in love, joy, and peace and get through our difficulties together.

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November 9, 2020

“Sing to Yahweh a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. Yahweh has made known his salvation. He has openly shown his righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his loving kindness and his faithfulness toward the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise to Yahweh, all the earth! Burst out and sing for joy, yes, sing praises! Sing praises to Yahweh with the harp, with the harp and the voice of melody. With trumpets and sound of the ram’s horn, make a joyful noise before the King, Yahweh. Let the sea roar with its fullness; the world, and those who dwell therein. Let the rivers clap their hands. Let the mountains sing for joy together. Let them sing before Yahweh, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” Psalm 98, WEB

We all have times in our lives when we have to wait. We wait for test results. We wait for events. We wait in the grocery store check-out line. We wait for Christmas and vacations. We wait for our laundry to dry and our cookies to bake. We wait for paint to dry. Waiting is never easy, but some waiting is harder than others. I have friends who had to wait a few days for a medical test to come back. Thankfully the issue is life or death, but I’m sure there is someone reading this today that is waiting to hear about test results than will be life changing. Complaints about waiting for the laundry seem silly compared to a cancer diagnosis.

I’m a worrier, so I don’t like to wait because waiting always leads me to worry. I spend the time of waiting not in patience but in thought, and it is never good thought. I ask the “what if” questions, and they always end in something bad. The longer I wait, the more troublesome I believe the outcome will be. Yet, sometimes it is necessary. A few years ago we had to change our cell phone plan. The store was helpful and got us a great deal. A few days later we received a verification letter for our new service, but the numbers on the paper were incorrect. They added extra phones and our bill was outrageous. I immediately called the company and the woman on the phone assured me that everything was correct in her computer. We just had to wait for our first bill and we would see everything was right. You can imagine my thoughts until that bill arrived. Would the woman’s promise proof true? Would they fix it if it was wrong? I was ready to fight for what was right that bill was wrong.

Promises are rarely immediate, or else they would not be promises. It takes faith and trust to wait patiently to see the fulfillment of the promise. This is not only true with the promises of men in this world, but it is also true of the promises of God. God has already brought salvation and redemption to this world, though at times it is hard to believe. We are saved, but it is hard to accept because we still suffer and hurt. Sin and death has been defeated, yet we still see sin and death in our world. God’s promise is true and it is fulfilled, but we are not going to fully see it until the Day of the Lord. We simply have to wait and watch in faith and trust until that day.

We never need to fight for what God has promised. He has already shown us His salvation in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Despite the evidence to the contrary, we can rest in the knowledge that God’s promises are true and that He will always be faithful. We will not fully see His faithfulness until that day when we join Him in Glory. Until that day, we need only walk in faith and rest in the promises knowing that God has overcome the world. We cannot overcome the world by our own abilities, but we can know the world is overcome by the blood of Christ and walk in the promise daily praising God for showing us that which is to come.

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November 10, 2020

“Don’t fret because of evildoers, neither be envious against those who work unrighteousness. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither like the green herb. Trust in Yahweh, and do good. Dwell in the land, and enjoy safe pasture. Also delight yourself in Yahweh, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to Yahweh. Trust also in him, and he will do this: he will make your righteousness shine out like light, and your justice as the noon day sun. Rest in Yahweh, and wait patiently for him. Don’t fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who makes wicked plots happen. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath. Don’t fret; it leads only to evildoing.” Psalm 37:1-8, WEB

There’s a story you have probably heard about an old farmer who attended a pot luck dinner at his church. Since he was an elder in the church, the pastor asked if he would say grace for the meal. The old farmer stood up, everyone bowed their heads and the he began, “Lord, I hate buttermilk.” The preacher opened one eye and wondered to himself where this was going. Then the farmer loudly proclaimed, “Lord, I hate lard!” Now the preacher was overly worried. However without missing a beat, the farmer prayed on, “And Lord, you know I don’t care much for raw white flour.” Just as the preacher was ready to stand and stop everything, the farmer continued. “But Lord, when you mix ‘em all together and bake ‘em up, I do love fresh biscuits. So lord, when things come up we don’t like, when life gets hard, when we just don’t understand what you are sayin’ to us, we just need to relax and wait till You are done mixin’, and probably it will be something even better that biscuits. Amen.”

God has this way of speaking to our needs, a way that is beyond our comprehension. We have been studying the Psalms in my adult Sunday school class. We are not looking at them numerically, but studying them from different perspectives, such as topic or literary aspects. We’ve looked at laments, at praise, at confidence in God’s promises. I haven’t tried to choose psalms that are particularly appropriate to our lives at that moment, but more often than not, the psalms we’ve discussed have been right on the mark. It has been amazing how often our discussion paralleled with what our pastor preached that Sunday.

I was careful to choose the psalm on Sunday, picking a lesson to focus on the literary aspects. I knew that we’d all need to talk about the events of the week and I was concerned that we’d spend our hour talking about the world rather than God. Psalm 37 is an alphabetic chiasmus, mixing two literary techniques in one poem. a chiasmus, which is “a rhetorical or literary figure in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order, in the same or a modified form.” Verses 1-8 and 35-40 are parallels. They both talk about the difference between how God deals with the righteous and the wicked. Verses 9 and 34 exhort the righteous to wait for the land. Verses 10-15 and 27-33 describe the difference between the ways God rewards/punishes the righteous and wicked. The parallels continue to the center of the psalm at verse 20. An acrostic is a poem using the alphabet. There are 40 verses in Psalm 37 and only 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, so several letters are repeated; each line begins with the next letter of the alphabet. This is imperfect in this psalm, but the general literary rule is followed, and at least one commentary (which I won't try to explain here because I didn't entirely understand it myself) suggested that the imperfection actually makes the psalm even more incredible.

Imagine trying to write a poem that has parallel ideas at the beginning and end, beginning with the first and last letters of the alphabet. Could you write a line beginning with the letter A that parallels a line beginning with the letter Z? Even worse, could you write a line beginning with C that parallels a line beginning with X? By studying the literary aspects of these passages we see that they are not only beautiful, encouraging, comforting, wise, but we see the brilliance of the poets God inspired to write these songs of praise. We study these literary and Hebrew aspects of the Psalms to see how God's hand was in the midst of the writing.

God pulled a fast one on me, because while I was trying to avoid talk about the previous week, I realized during my pre-class study that our Psalm was just what we needed to hear. Whatever our feelings about the election, we all needed to be reminded that God is in control and that He knows what He’s doing. He’s making biscuits and we just don’t smell them baking just yet. Note that in these eight verses of Psalm 37, the psalmist writes three times, “Do not fret!” Fretting is worry, and worry doesn’t help matters at all. Worry keeps us from trusting God, and discipleship means trusting God above all else. We have to live in this world, and we have to deal with the struggles and joys of this world, but we have to do it from the point of view that God knows what is coming.

So, what are we to do while the biscuits are baking? God answers that question in these verses. The psalmist exhorts us to trust in the Lord, do good, dwell in the land, cherish faithfulness, delight in the Lord, commit to walking His way, rest in the Lord, and wait patiently. Cherish faithfulness seems to be translated differently in every version of the bible, but it seems to mean letting the Word of God become part of your whole being. As Christians, righteous before God because of the saving grace of Jesus Christ, we are to live as disciples no matter what. Discipleship in this world, in good times and bad through suffering and joy, means living according to God’s Word, glorifying Him, and doing what is right for our neighbors. The more we live as God is calling us to live, the more we will see how He has been making biscuits all along, and one day we’ll be feasting on them in heaven for eternity.

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November 11, 2020

Scriptures for November 15, 2020, Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Zephaniah 1:7-18; Psalm 90:1-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things. I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” Matthew 25:23, WEB

I don’t know about you, but I have that there has been more and more talk about the end of the world in the past few months. I have friends who are convinced that we are very close to the day when Christ will return to take His people home. Memes on Facebook show the reasons why we should take this seriously, how their thoughts line up to the scriptures. I must confess that there are days when I hope it is true that we are the generation to see the Day of the LORD.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I cry out daily “Come, Lord Jesus,” but I’m reminded by today’s Old Testament lesson that it isn’t necessarily a day we should hope to see. 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 this Day of the Lord. It 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.

We find comfort in the images of Jesus’ second coming when He will take His people with Him; we look forward to the promises that will be fulfilled finally after so much time. The apocalypse is not about us, but about them, whoever they are. Yet, we cannot 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 and God would not come simply to defeat His enemies, but to cause His people to repent. The letters to the churches in Revelation remind us to take these warnings seriously. We can fail to be the people God has called us to be.

The text from Zephaniah is not a pretty passage. This is not an image of God that we want to see, but are reminded that we are still waiting for the Day of the LORD. It is just so hard for us, who live in the New Covenant, to read these words. We are comforted by the images of Christ’s return, and yet the Day of the LORD is frightening, too. How do we find grace in a passage so filled with horror?

That’s the focus of those Facebook posts: to warn the readers to get their act together or like the enemies of God, they will be destroyed. It is all about fire and damnation, scaring people into faith. As people of faith, however, we understand the Day of the LORD a little differently. It is not a time for God to destroy His enemies, but rather it is a time to cause His people to turn to Him.

It does us well to listen to the warnings of the Old Testament promise. It is true that 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 dregs.” 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 this one that we can fall, turning away from all that 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 will be able to deliver them in the day of Yahweh’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 our enemies 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 eclipses this message: hope in God. He has promised and He is faithful. We may not see it clearly, but the Gospel underlies every text. We must read a message like this through the eyes of faith, resting in God’s love. We know that 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, “Yahweh, your God, is among you, a mighty one who will save. He will rejoice over you with joy. He will calm you in his love. He will rejoice over you with singing.”

That’s what’s missing in those fire and damnation posts. The images in today’s passage may seem hopeless, but in faith we know that God is faithful. He does not forget His promises even when we do. He has given us His Son to overcome our faithlessness. Though the world may end, we can still have hope because God has promised us eternal life.

As for those enemies, the ones we are sure will suffer that fire and damnation, we do not know their hearts, only God does. Condemnation is above our pay grade. While it is important for us to be warned, to consider our own lives and relationship with God, we are not meant to interpret these passages as judgment against “them” but as admonition for us. Jesus Christ is coming again. What will He find when He comes?

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 successes or failures of those 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 used them to grow the kingdom and glorify 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.

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 gifts for the glory of God. He has gone away but has left us each with sufficient gifts 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 gifts 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.

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. When we replace the bulb we are shocked by its brightness. We do not realize how dim the old one had become until 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.

Paul might have thought that Jesus would return during his lifetime, but his words are for us today. Despite two thousand years of waiting, we are called to stay awake. It is easy to become complacent, to settle into the world without concern for heavenly things. 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 shine the light of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are called to 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 warning is as vital for us now as it was for them. Jesus will come; if we lose sight of His kingdom He will come like a thief in the night. But we are people of the light, called to be ready instead of “settling on our dregs.”

We often focus specifically on the spiritual gifts when talking about this passage, particularly since most translations call the coin called a “talent.” We think about our own talents and consider whether or not we are using them in a way that will grow the Kingdom of God. But this story isn’t necessary just about those spiritual gifts and talents; it is about our whole lives. After all, everything is God’s, isn’t it? We can probably list all the many ways we’ve served the Lord through our churches, the Sunday school classes we’ve taught or the songs we’ve sung in the choir. But do we take our faith out into the world in which we live, glorifying God with everything we do? Do we bury our gifts in the church and go about our daily lives without a thought about God’s Kingdom?

We are often just as afraid of that third servant; we are afraid to use what God has given us where it is risky. It is risky to share our faith with our neighbors. It is risky to serve people. It is risky to give everything we have for an outcome we can’t guarantee. It is much safer to keep our faith among friends, to share our gifts with those we know, to do the things that we are sure will make a difference in the world. It isn’t enough to dedicate a few hours in one place each week to the glory of God. God calls us to use everything He has given us (life, breath, love, time, hope, peace, faith, along with our tangible possessions and our spiritual gifts) every day for the sake of His Kingdom and people.

But we get complacent. We become self-satisfied and conceited. Though we don’t necessarily say it, we begin to act as if God will not do anything, good or bad. We let the world convince us that if God exists, He isn’t much more than a far away creator-king who is no longer involved with His creation. We hide our faith because we are accused of believing in myths and fairytales; it is simply easier to have a private faith without the risk of being rejected or persecuted by the world. Unfortunately, that’s no better than the third servant who buried his talent in the ground, returning to the master only what he had given.

It takes time to get complacent. God’s people did not start out the way they were in Zephaniah’s time. They had passion and living, active faith. But time and the world mellowed their passion. They didn’t teach their children to have the same passion or faith. They conformed to the world. They allowed their leaders, their kings, to be allied with enemies and to concede to foreign friends. They made their faith fit their circumstances. Don’t we do the same?

We have talked about how the lectionary at this time of year focuses on the second coming of Christ, but how many of us are truly waiting for the Day of the LORD? How many of us really think we’ll see Him return in our lifetimes? There are those who think so, and they are counting down the days, studying the texts and certain they have figured it out. There are even those who are working to put the pieces in place to guarantee His coming soon. But most of us, most Christians, go about our daily lives worried about how we’ll pay the mortgage and what we will have for dinner rather than whether or not we are ready for Jesus’ return. After all, it has been two thousand years; perhaps we misunderstood. Some have suggested that He has already come or that the second coming is spiritual. That kind of thinking makes us stop preparing and waiting.

And so, as we draw closer to the Day of the Lord, we are reminded that God cannot be kept in a box, but we do have our limits. Time passes 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. 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 our understanding of God, let us never forget that He is more than we can imagine.

In this day, we should be watchful and alert, doing as God has called us to do, living as God has created and redeemed us to live. We are in Christ, saved by His blood and Spirit, called out of darkness into the light. In that light, we are to love God with our whole being, doing His work every day. God is faithful and His Word is true. The Day will come, whether it is today or in a thousand years and God has provided us with everything we need as we wait. We need not be afraid to risk what He has given us for He will provide the growth.

The psalmist writes, “For a thousand years in your sight are just like yesterday when it is past, like a watch in the night.” We live in a world with instant gratification. We send a text and have a response in seconds. We type a few words into an Internet search engine and we have a million resources to help our research. We order a burger and fries, and it is delivered to our car window in seconds. We buy a book from a bookseller and it is downloaded to our e-reader instantly. We do not have to wait for anything anymore, and so we have lost the ability to wait.

Not that people were ever very good at being patient. Sarah wouldn’t wait for God, so she sent Abraham into the arms of a maidservant to create a child. And the early Christians wanted Jesus to return in their day. We still have that same longing, and it manifests occasionally when some charismatic cult leader decides to proclaim that the time is now. I have seen the would-be prophet proclaiming that everything that has happened in 2020 are signs that Jesus is coming, as if no other generation has had to face difficult times. There will be people who believe those proclamations, they may even quit their jobs and take up their signs that say, “The End of the World is Near!” They will try to scare people into salvation rather than shine the light of Jesus. And when the end of the world doesn’t happen, they will be left without a job, home or food. They will be disappointed and perhaps even lose heart. They may even lose faith.

Even worse, though, is when people are complacent. In Thessalonica, the people were self-satisfied, believing everything was fine. When we are complacent, we also become apathetic since there is no need for hope beyond today and no need to reach beyond oneself. Yet, our passages for today speak of a day when everything will fall apart, when the Master will bring an end to our complacency. They call us to live as if Jesus were coming today, doing His work in the world.

Let us pray that we will, one day, hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things. I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” In that Day, we will be invited to share in His joy, to bask in His glory, to dwell in His Kingdom forever.

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November 12, 2020

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead. He became the first fruit of those who are asleep. For since death came by man, the resurrection of the dead also came by man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then those who are Christ’s, at his coming. Then the end comes, when he will deliver up the Kingdom to God, even the Father, when he will have abolished all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death.” 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, WEB

The first house we owned was a simple ranch in California. The landscaping was in need of work, but it gave my husband plenty to do on the weekends as we planted bushes and flowers. We removed some of the plants that appeared dead and kept the trees pruned and lawns pruned. By the time we moved out, the yard looked lovely.

When we first moved in, there was a stick planted in the front corner. We didn’t know what it was and it looked dead, but since it was the end of the growing season, we decided to leave it go until the next spring. That is when we realized it was not just a stick, but that it was a lilac bush. Lilacs are one of my favorite bushes because it reminds me of my childhood. We had a huge bush by the front door that always smelled lovely when it was in bloom. We always cut blossoms off and put them in vases in our house. I sometimes took blossoms to school to give to my favorite teachers. So, to find a lilac bush in the yard was wonderful. We were happy that we gave it time to grow. We gave cuttings from it to our friends and some of those bushes still live.

There is a house on the route I walk each day that had a large tree that had been removed. I don’t know what type of tree it is, but the stump is still there in the middle of the lawn. I noticed on my walk today that there are dozens of shoots coming up out of the ground near the stump. They aren’t like the weeds in the rest of the yard; they are definitely shoots from the roots of the tree. I’m sure they will be cut down the next time the homeowner mows their yard, but those shoots made me remember that lilac bush in California. Sometimes that which we think is dead is really still alive.

We have probably all had similar experiences. Our lawns are filled with weeds because we remove the plant but leave the roots. The roots are hidden under the dirt, but they are still alive, capable of poking through the surface of the dirt, through the grass to mess up our tidy lawns. Unless we remove the roots, we’ll always have the possibility of new growth. Sometimes those weeds turn out to be lovely wildflowers, after all a weed is simply a wildflower in the wrong place.

There is a root of something beautiful in every person God has created. We were designed with a need for God, born with an emptiness that needs to be filled. We are as good as dead without it, just stumps in the ground or wildflowers waiting to bloom. But when God adds the spark of faith, we are made alive in Him. We grow in that faith, becoming a tree or a wildflower according to God’s perfect plan. And then there is this: that tree in my neighbor’s yard was once alive and now seems dead, but the shoots show how life continues. The people from whom you first heard the Gospel might be no more, but through you their faith goes on. And your faith will continue through the lives of all those to whom you shared the Gospel. You might not even see it, the shoot of faith might be buried beneath the surface and will not poke until you are long gone, but God is able to bring new life from even that which seems dead. Jesus Christ was the first fruit of God’s plan for the salvation of His people, and we are the shoots that have grown from what He has planted.

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November 13, 2020

“When he got into a boat, his disciples followed him. Behold, a violent storm came up on the sea, so much that the boat was covered with the waves; but he was asleep. The disciples came to him and woke him up, saying, ‘Save us, Lord! We are dying!’ He said to them, ‘Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?’ Then he got up, rebuked the wind and the sea, and there was a great calm.” Matthew 8:23-26, WEB

It is Friday the 13th. Are you planning to do anything differently today? Do you suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia, which is an abnormal fear of Friday the 13th? According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Ashville, North Carolina, millions of people suffer from this phobia to the point of changing their daily routine on the day to avoid bad luck. Some people refuse to go to work or even get out of bed. I’ve seen numerous memes recently suggesting that since it is not only Friday the 13th but also 2020, we should be especially afraid.

Interestingly, the Dutch Center for Insurance Statistics report that fewer accidents, fires or thefts are reported to have happened when Friday is the 13th compared to all other Fridays. So is it really unlucky? Or, are people so frightened by the possibility of accident that they are extra careful on Friday the 13th?

We have to wonder how this superstition came into being. Some fears though often extreme have reasonable reasons. Fear of snakes can come from painful and dangerous experiences with snakes. A fear of heights can come from a real experience of falling or knowing someone who fell. The news is filled with images of fiery plane crashes, so it is understandable when someone refuses to board a plane. But have those millions of people really experienced something horrible on Friday the 13th to give the fear substance? Probably not.

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

I probably would not have even realized that today is Friday the 13th if I hadn’t seen a meme on Facebook. I think sometimes we talk ourselves into our fears because we believe what others have said. Would those who have accidents today have had them only because it is the 13th, or would they have had an accident anyway? Would that bad news have come no matter the date on the calendar? We certainly can’t make things better by living in fear.

Imagine what sort of day the disciples were having when they had the experience in today’s passage. I doubt it was a Friday the 13th, but it wasn’t exactly a banner day. In the show “Jesus Christ Superstar” this day was visualized as one of confusion with the crowds hemming in on Jesus. They all wanted to be healed, they all wanted to feel His touch. In an incredibly unsettling moment in the story, Jesus cries “Heal yourself!” to the crowds. We don’t see that in the scriptures, but in the section just before our passage for today, Jesus tries to escape the crowds by crossing over the lake. They were coming to Him because He’d healed Peter’s mother-in-law. His escape was interrupted by those wanting to know what it takes to disciple. Jesus tells them that the cost is great.

So in today’s passage, the disciples were in a boat, crossing to the other side. They were amazed at what they saw, but also emotionally spent because they dealt with the illness of a loved one (Peter’s mother-in-law.) They saw the suffering of many and learned that they would have to give up everything to continue to follow Jesus. Then, just as it seemed like they might find some peace in this hectic and stressful day, a storm swept over the boat. Is it any wonder that the disciples might be afraid? Jesus answered their fear with a simple question, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?”

So if you are afraid to go out into the world today because it is a Friday the 13th in the year 2020, remember Jesus’ question and face the day with courage and faith.

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November 16, 2020

“When he got into a boat, his disciples followed him. Behold, a violent storm came up on the sea, so much that the boat was covered with the waves; but he was asleep. The disciples came to him and woke him up, saying, ‘Save us, Lord! We are dying!’ He said to them, ‘Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?’ Then he got up, rebuked the wind and the sea, and there was a great calm.” Matthew 8:23-26, WEB

It is Friday the 13th. Are you planning to do anything differently today? Do you suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia, which is an abnormal fear of Friday the 13th? According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Ashville, North Carolina, millions of people suffer from this phobia to the point of changing their daily routine on the day to avoid bad luck. Some people refuse to go to work or even get out of bed. I’ve seen numerous memes recently suggesting that since it is not only Friday the 13th but also 2020, we should be especially afraid.

Interestingly, the Dutch Center for Insurance Statistics report that fewer accidents, fires or thefts are reported to have happened when Friday is the 13th compared to all other Fridays. So is it really unlucky? Or, are people so frightened by the possibility of accident that they are extra careful on Friday the 13th?

We have to wonder how this superstition came into being. Some fears though often extreme have reasonable reasons. Fear of snakes can come from painful and dangerous experiences with snakes. A fear of heights can come from a real experience of falling or knowing someone who fell. The news is filled with images of fiery plane crashes, so it is understandable when someone refuses to board a plane. But have those millions of people really experienced something horrible on Friday the 13th to give the fear substance? Probably not.

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

I probably would not have even realized that today is Friday the 13th if I hadn’t seen a meme on Facebook. I think sometimes we talk ourselves into our fears because we believe what others have said. Would those who have accidents today have had them only because it is the 13th, or would they have had an accident anyway? Would that bad news have come no matter the date on the calendar? We certainly can’t make things better by living in fear.

Imagine what sort of day the disciples were having when they had the experience in today’s passage. I doubt it was a Friday the 13th, but it wasn’t exactly a banner day. In the show “Jesus Christ Superstar” this day was visualized as one of confusion with the crowds hemming in on Jesus. They all wanted to be healed, they all wanted to feel His touch. In an incredibly unsettling moment in the story, Jesus cries “Heal yourself!” to the crowds. We don’t see that in the scriptures, but in the section just before our passage for today, Jesus tries to escape the crowds by crossing over the lake. They were coming to Him because He’d healed Peter’s mother-in-law. His escape was interrupted by those wanting to know what it takes to disciple. Jesus tells them that the cost is great.

So in today’s passage, the disciples were in a boat, crossing to the other side. They were amazed at what they saw, but also emotionally spent because they dealt with the illness of a loved one (Peter’s mother-in-law.) They saw the suffering of many and learned that they would have to give up everything to continue to follow Jesus. Then, just as it seemed like they might find some peace in this hectic and stressful day, a storm swept over the boat. Is it any wonder that the disciples might be afraid? Jesus answered their fear with a simple question, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?”

So if you are afraid to go out into the world today because it is a Friday the 13th in the year 2020, remember Jesus’ question and face the day with courage and faith.

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November 17, 2020

“A wrathful man stirs up contention, but one who is slow to anger appeases strife.” Proverbs 15:18, WEB

I was at the big box store the other day. Well, I’m there regularly, perhaps two or three times a week. On one occasion I had difficulty navigating an aisle because a group of salespeople were standing in the aisle gossiping about someone who had recently been promoted, who apparently did not deserve it. I think I met the woman when I went to the check out. Now, this particular store has about two dozen check-out stations and is notorious for not having any checkers. On this occasion they had several self check-outs open and one express lane. The line for the express lane was quite long, and several people had cartloads, well more than the fifteen item limit. I found the front end supervisor chatting with the self-check-out supervisor and asked that they open a register. She did it herself rather than call for help. I suggested she should call help. “I don’t have anyone,” she answered. I told her that there were a bunch of people gossiping (I think it was about her!) making it difficult to shop that department. “One of them should be able to help.” She just shook her head and finished my order.

I encountered this same woman the other day. I needed some vitamins. The type I needed was sold in a single bottle and in a twin pack. I picked up a single bottle, but when I got to the check-out, we discovered that it did not have a UPC code. The supervisor came to help and instead of calling someone to discover the problem, she sent the cashier to the vitamin department to find out the problem. It took her forever to return (if you buy vitamins, you know that the shelving is always confusing and specific vitamins are hard to find. The supervisor finished checking my order except for the vitamins. When the girl finally returned, she had a twin pack; the one I picked was one of a twin pack that had been broken to fill a shelf. The spot where the singles were supposed to was filled with these bottles without UPC code. They couldn’t sell it to me, but would sell me a twin pack. I didn’t need that many.

Those single bottles will never be ordered while that shelf space is filled with those unsellable bottles. The person who does the ordering will only order those items that are empty or nearly empty. He or she has no idea that the ones there are wrong and more customers will be caught at the check-out unable to purchase what they need. I tried to help by reminding her that those bottles should be removed and I am certain that she was frustrated by me. She wasn’t rude, but she acted as if it was none of my business. It is true that I don’t work at that store, but I worked in retail, so I know how things work. I was trying to make things better for them, after all, they will have the same problem at the check-outs until that is fixed.

I think I was polite, but I confess that I’m not always patient with the workers at my local stores. I become frustrated when I see them do things that just don’t make sense. I am trying to be more patient. The supervisor is obviously new to the position and she’s trying to learn how to do her job. The cashier on my second visit was a new holiday hire and was also trying to learn how to do her job. As we enter into the holiday season, we will find a lot of people on both ends of every transaction frustrated and stressed by the struggles of this year, which will be amplified by the stress of the holidays.

It is easier for us to strike out than to be patient, but we need to try to be sympathetic to the struggles of the holiday season, no matter which side of the register we stand. It doesn’t help to be wrathful when everyone is struggling to make it through each day. Let us all commit to trying to be the one who acts in a way that appeases strife in this world, so that others will experience grace and avoid contention in this extremely contentious time.

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November 18, 2020

Scriptures for November 22, 2020, Christ the King: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 95:1-7a; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Matthew 25:31-46

“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?’” Matthew 25:37-39, WEB

I was probably about eleven years old when the movie starring Lucille Ball called “Mame” was in the movie theaters. It was the musical about an eccentric and wealthy woman who becomes the guardian of her late brother’s son. She loses everything in the stock market crash of 1929 and the lawyer was threatening to remove the boy from her care. In the depths of her trouble, Mame realizes that she needs to do something to find joy again. She suggests that they get out the Christmas decorations and start to celebrate early. We laugh today because the line from the boy is “But it’s one week ‘til Thanksgiving Day now!” Since the movie was set in the late 1920s, they were not beginning Christmas in August yet.

Despite the stores already displaying Christmas decorations and Santa is already in the malls, most people are pretty adamant about not beginning to decorate until after Thanksgiving. “No Christmas music before then!” they say each year, except this year. The scene from the movie includes a song called “We Need a Little Christmas Now.” “Haul out the holly. Put up the tree before my spirit falls again. Fill up the stocking. I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now. For we need a little Christmas right this very minute: candles in the window, carols at the spinet. Yes, we need a little Christmas, right this very minute. Hasn’t snowed a single flurry, but Santa dear we’re in a hurry.” The song goes on to talk about the struggles they are facing, but also their hope that they can find their happily ever after.

I’ve been humming that tune for a few weeks now. We need a little Christmas. I’m not the only one who thinks so; I have been seeing Christmas lights on houses for over a week. Despite it being “too early,” I have watched hours of Christmas movies already. I’m ready to get out the decorations, too.

I have a small collection of nativities that I like to keep out year round. It is fascinating to see the different ways people represent that special moment in time. There is always a baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The other figures include wise men, animals, angels and shepherds.

The shepherd is usually a young boy carrying a lamb. Though he’s muscular from his work, he is also skinny and poorly clothed. The shepherd is included because they were invited to the manger to see the baby, but he probably also represents David when he was anointed to be king of Israel. David was the youngest and smallest of his siblings, just a shepherd for his father’s flock, and yet he is the one that God chose to lead Israel. David did not take the throne until Saul died, after spending years as Saul’s servant and then pursued and threatened by Saul. 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.

Shepherds were often boys, too small to be a warrior 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, but they are appointed 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: Jesus. God knew what would happen when God’s people asked for a king. He warned that an earthly king would demand much from them; many would be cruel and lay heavy burdens on their shoulders, but He granted their request. Over the years, some of the kings even led the people 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. The final King would come from David’s line. It is that king we celebrate this Sunday: Christ the King.

The glittering lights are one way to find some joy in the darkness. We also need a little laughter, so we turn to the Internet and watch funny videos. Who hasn’t tried to find a video of cute cats or dogs doing silly things. I love the videos of the little boy doing a cooking show. Or the family that produces spoofs about everything we love to hate. We watch these videos to get our minds off our troubles. We also love goat videos. Baby goats in pajamas bounce around the barnyard make us smile. We even laugh, with a little sympathy, at the frightened goats that fall down with the legs paralyzed for a moment.

Goats make us smile, but based on today’s scripture, it sounds like the goats are bad because Jesus uses them as the example of those who will be sent into eternal punishment for not taking care of the needy. 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 not been true if God had deemed goats unworthy. Leviticus 16 describes the ritual involved in the Day of Atonement, at which goats played a very prominent role. The Lord told Moses that Aaron should first offer a bull for his own sins, and then he was 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 people laid their sins on the scapegoat’s head and it was then sent into the wilderness. Both goats were sacrificed, but one was given directly to the Lord and the other was left for God to take in His time and way. The fact that goats were 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 included goats. It is the blood of that animal, after all, that provided for the spiritual cleansing of the people. It is through the blood that they were forgiven. It is not really a concept that we understand today, especially since Hebrews 10 teaches that the blood of bulls and goats cannot forgive sin. 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 their excess for sale. Goat manure makes excellent fertilizer. Goats 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 good pets. Goat hair is used to make wool, including mohair and cashmere. These animals are certainly of value, particularly among those families for whom one animal could mean the difference between life and death.

So, why would Jesus compare the sheep to the goats? In many ways, sheep and goats are the same but they are very different in terms of behavior. In Jesus’ day, the sheep and the goats were separated at night, the goats put into a barn to keep warm but the sheep preferred to stay in the field. Goats are willing to eat anything, but sheep prefer the short tender grasses and clover in the field. Sheep eat to the ground, while goats prefer to eat off the top of the plant. There are also differences in their social behavior. Goats are more curious, wandering to seek out new food sources. They are independent; they do not wander with a flock but move wherever they want. Sheep, however, flock together and become discontent when alone.

Perhaps that’s why Jesus separated the sheep from the goats. The goats go their own way; the sheep stay together. I’m not sure it can be said that sheep help one another, but they are safer and warmer in a group than the goats that wander. The people who are like sheep are those who live in community, sharing what they have with others. People who are like goats live for themselves. That’s certainly the difference between the sheep and the goats in today’s Gospel lesson. The sheep didn’t know they were caring for their Lord, but they were in the Lord’s presence when they cared for one another. The goats were ignorant of other’s needs and thus missed the Lord. This doesn’t mean that the sheep are perfect at doing good works or that the goats never share. It simply means that the sheep in this story are those whose hearts and spirits respond to the needs of others.

So, we should not use this text to compare the importance or value between sheep and goats. They are used, instead, to help us learn that until the day Christ comes to rule over the world, it is 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. They didn’t act in faith.

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? Are we not more like the shepherds who fail than like the King to come we are meant to emulate?

Those questions make us stop and consider our life, an exercise we regularly do at this time of year. As we struggle with another wave of covid around the country and around the world, we wonder if we have been living as God would want us to live. As the church year closes, we are reminded of the life we should be living as we wait for the second coming of the Christ. There are days when I hope He will come very soon. Then I wonder what Christ will find when He comes again.

Christ the King Sunday comes the week before we begin Advent, a season of repentance as we prepare for the coming of the Christ child. We are reminded that we are not only waiting for the babe in a manger, but also for the Day of the Lord. The lights and glitter may be appearing all over our neighborhoods, but there is still darkness in the world and in our hearts. Jesus will come, and when He comes He will be looking for faith lived out in action.

It is a very fine line we walk when we talk about our good works. We know that our salvation is dependent on the first coming of Christ: He was born to die so that we would have eternal life. Jesus’ 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. But, 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.

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? 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.

We are very aware of those charitable moments when we do something nice or give a donation. As we can see in this story, however, the sheep had no idea they were doing a good work, “When did we see you, Lord?” and the goats did not know they had failed, “When did we miss you, Lord?” We don’t always see Christ in the midst of our ordinary lives, but He is with us daily. Sometimes we realize that we’ve had a divine appointment, when the revelation of God’s mercy and grace is made apparent to us. However, the best experiences in sharing God’s love happen without our noticing, like when we speak a word of compassion to someone waiting in the grocery line or when we share a meal with a sick friend. They do not seem extraordinary, but it is those very acts that Jesus commends. He is reminding us that we should always be ready to respond with grace and mercy to everyone who crosses our path.

Perhaps it is impossible to see the face of God in His fallen creation, but if we do not pay attention to the world around us, we might just miss the Christ we so greatly long to see. If that’s the way we live, we are just like the shepherds in Ezekiel’s day that stepped on the sheep to get fat, and like the goats in the parable that ignored the needs of their neighbors, missing the presence of Christ.

We are called to live in faith, trusting in our Great Shepherd’s grace as we respond to His love by meeting the needs of this world. In this way we live in praise and thanksgiving. As Christians, with the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts, our response to the worlds’ needs comes naturally. We don’t do good works because it is that time of year, or because it makes us feel good, or even because we know we should give back. We do what we do because that is who we are. We have been transformed by faith to be Christ-like, to be His hands in the world. Your holiday charity is a blessing to someone, for sure, but our lives are meant to be in service always, no matter the time or our circumstances. Jesus might see faith in action in the next month, but we do not know when He will come again. Will He find faith in action?

The three things Paul desires for the Ephesians is “hope,” “riches of his glorious inheritance,” and “immeasurable greatness of his power,” and that the people might know what they are. What is hope? What are 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 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. The greatest lesson we can learn from the apocalyptic texts of the Bible is that it is not up to us to have the power. It is up to us to trust in God; the King will make everything right.

I think sometimes we forget that we are just a very tiny part of something much, much bigger. It is far more apparent to us when we fly. I like to have a window seat on an airplane so I can watch the world go by. As the plane is taxiing to the runway, we can still see the people working the flight line. They become smaller and smaller the more the plane moves away. Then, as the airplane begins to ascend, you can see the houses and other features. I always try to identify neighborhoods or landmarks. As we move higher into the sky, cars are impossible to see. Houses become tiny spots on the ground. Rivers, lakes, and roads all look the same.

It makes me feel very insignificant. If the Rocky Mountains, which tower over the earth, look like bumps on the surface of the earth 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 are 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, we realize that it is hard for us to even know where we are. Our vision is limited; our God can see both the big picture of the universe and every hair on our head. He knows us to the very depths of our souls. He knows our hearts, and that’s why the little shepherd David was chosen to be king.

I am awed by the immenseness of the earth when I fly, because from 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 all 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 knows me by name. He gave me that name, child of God, daughter of the Most High. As I sit on an airplane feeling 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 or from our sky.

He is a King that is worthy to be praised. The psalmist writes, “For Yahweh is a great God, a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth. The heights of the mountains are also his. The sea is his, and he made it. His hands formed the dry land.” This is the One who deserves our praise and thanksgiving; He is greater than anything in this world because He created it all. And though His Son Jesus Christ is the King, we are too look for Him in our neighbors, to see His face and reach out to their needs for His sake. How can we possibly see God in His fallen creation? How can we see God in the ordinary? I’m not sure we’ll ever recognize His face when we see it; neither the sheep nor the goats knew they were seeing God. The sheep responded anyway. That’s what Jesus is calling us to do.

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November 19, 2020

“Brothers, children of the stock of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, the word of this salvation is sent out to you. For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they didn’t know him, nor the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. Though they found no cause for death, they still asked Pilate to have him killed. When they had fulfilled all things that were written about him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and he was seen for many days by those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses to the people. We bring you good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this to us, their children, in that he raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son. Today I have become your father.’” Acts 13:26-33, WEB

One day, a pastor on his way to a funeral, decided to get a haircut. As he sat in the chair, he chatted with the hairdresser. She told him that once she was asked to cut the hair of a dead man, but she was too afraid that he would sit up. So, she rejected the $150. The pastor told her that he knew of one occasion when a dead man sat up and he went on to describe the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When she was finished cutting his hair, she asked if he would return. He said that he would. She said, “Good, I would like to hear more about this man.” A normal, everyday experience gave one pastor an opportunity for evangelism.

Bill Bright suggests that every time we are in a situation for more than a few moments with someone, that we approach it as an appointment from God to witness to His saving grace in Christ Jesus. Yet, most of us never talk about our faith, thinking it is the responsibility of those who are trained and gifted for that type of service. We do not act as witnesses for Christ because we think there are others who are much better suited to do it.

God has custom-designed you as an individual with unique gifts, personality and opportunities. We may not all be evangelists like Billy Graham, but that does not excuse us from being witnesses for Christ in our daily lives. There are different types of approaches to evangelism, one of which may fit you well. There is the confrontational approach, such as Peter was known to do. The blind man in John 9 used a testimonial approach, telling the people he met what Jesus did for him. The woman at the well invited the people from her village to “come and see” what Christ could do. Matthew used an interpersonal approach, witnessing to friends and family whom he invited to a party. The woman Dorcas served people, sharing her faith in word and deed by making clothes for the needy and helping the poor in Jesus’ name.

Imagine what it must been like in Jerusalem in those days following the resurrection. Hundreds of people had witnessed the presence of the Living Christ. What if the first disciples had not witnessed? The witnesses to which Paul refers are not just the apostles, they are all those who had seen the risen Lord Jesus. Most of them never stopped living their normal lives. They continued to cook dinner and clean house, travel to market for the supplies they needed for daily living. They worked their jobs, fed their animals, and weeded their fields. Yet, along the way they must have told someone about what they had seen. They were all individuals who shared a similar experience, yet every one witnessed in some unique manner, according to the gifts and opportunities given to them by God.

Are you willing to talk about your faith with your hairdresser? How about the grocery store clerk or the mailman or your child’s schoolteacher? You may not be bold like Paul, but do you invite your friends for dinner and share the story of Jesus with them? You may think you do not have a testimony to give, but do you invite others to see what Jesus can do? Paul boldly shared the story of Christ to those listening, building upon the witness of others. We may never see the fruit of our witness, but every chance we are given to share the Gospel is an opportunity to plant a seed that by God’s grace will grow into faith.

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November 20, 2020

“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. This is the boldness which we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he listens to us. And if we know that he listens to us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him.” 1 John 5:13-15, WEB

Kate Hankey loved Jesus and her greatest desire was to take Him into the world. She grew up in London, in a Christian home where the family often gathered with friends for Bible Study. Kate eventually started her own studies, taking her knowledge of the scriptures to the girls of her neighborhood and the women who worked in the factories of London. She wanted the poor and downhearted to see the grace of God.

Kate was about thirty years old when she became seriously ill. Her doctor insisted that she must stop her Bible studies for a time, and she spent nearly a year in bed. Though she was not able to share the Gospel with her students, she did not stop telling the story of Jesus. She spent the year writing poetry, including a long poem in two parts, “The Story Wanted” and “The Story Told.” This poem eventually became two beloved hymns, “Tell Me the Old, Old Story” and “I Love to Tell the Story.”

It doesn’t matter how well we know the story or how firm we stand in God’s grace, we all have moments of doubt and fear. We all have moments when we need to hear the Gospel story to remind us that we have eternal life. John may have written his letter to a people who were knew in faith, but the words are written for us, too. Despite two thousand years of Christianity, we still need to be assured that God’s promises are true.

My favorite verse of “I Love to Tell the Story” is the third one. “I love to tell the story, for those who know it best; Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest; And when in scenes of glory I sing the new, new song; ‘Twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.” We do hunger and thirst to hear the words of grace as much (perhaps even more) than those who have never heard them at all. John assures us that the message we have heard, the message we have told, is real and true. God’s promises are real and true. God is faithful.

And so this day, let us tell the story, shout the story, sing the story, paint the story, write the story, live the story, share the story with everyone we meet. The story is true; we are assured of eternal life in Christ. Like John, we are sent into the world to remind each other that God is listening and He is willing to answer our prayers according to His good and perfect will. He hears those who pray in faith and He is gracious for all who believe.

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November 23, 2020

“Let no man say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God,’ for God can’t be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed. Then the lust, when it has conceived, bears sin. The sin, when it is full grown, produces death. Don’t be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, nor turning shadow. Of his own will he gave birth to us by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures” James 1:13-18, WEB

I have been a stay-at-home wife and mother for most of the past three decades. I was very busy when the children were small and my husband was still active duty. Besides chasing kids and keeping the house, I spent many hours volunteering. There wasn’t a day I didn’t have something to do or somewhere to be. If my schedule was clear, I had errands to run. I spent a lot of time in my car. As the children grew, my schedule cleared a little, though I still found ways to use my time. I’ve noticed in the past few years, now that they are grown and my husband’s situation has changed, I have fewer things taking my time. I still had errands to run; I usually ended up at the arts and crafts stores at least once a week and at the grocery store several times. I occasionally had lunch with friends, attended a movie, or went on some fun adventure.

That is, until a few months ago. Like everyone else, I’ve spent much, much more time at home. It hasn’t been that different for me. I had become such a homebody that I was thinking about something to do like a regular volunteer schedule or a job. There would be advantages to that, but it would also make it more difficult to keep up with this writing and my other Bible studies. So, I settled for my simple, very quiet life; some days the only reason I left the house was to get the mail. And then the pandemic hit and everyone started living my life. Even my husband was home all the time. We began taking our daily walks just to get out of the house.

One of the affects of this lock-down has been the wear and tear on our house. I have a carpet cleaner coming today because I noticed that the heavy traffic areas are worse than they have ever been. There’s a path from the front door to the place I keep my shoes, probably darker because I carried the dirt from the street into my room every day after my walk. The couches in our formal living room have gotten more use in the past six months than in the previous seven years. I need to clean the pillows and replace the pillow forms.

We didn’t realize the impact we were having on these things until recently. It isn’t that suddenly the carpets became dirty or the couch cushions scrunched. It happened a little at a time. That’s the way it is with sin, too. Oh, there are some sins that have an immediate impact on our world. Murder affects a person, a family, a city and sometimes even the nation and the world. On the other hand, little white lies don’t seem to have any impact at all. Yet, those lies build; they create distrust and eventually broken relationships. You don’t see it happening until one day the problem becomes obvious. Unfortunately, unlike my carpet, it is sometimes too late. The hurt is too deep, the lives too shattered.

We do not always know the effect of the small sins that seem so harmless. Lies lead to greater lies. This is not only true of the actions that can be seen, but also with the thoughts that are known only in our minds and by God. They can lead to greater sins, building ever greater until it is too late to stop the harm that is caused. Though we don’t have the strength on our own to overcome these things, we do have One who gives us the strength to reject that which leads us astray. Our Lord Jesus overcame all temptations so that His Word might bring us forth into new life.

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November 24, 2020

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November 25, 2020

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November 26, 2020

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November 27, 2020

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November 30, 2020

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