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


























A WORD FOR TODAY, October 2008

October 1, 2008

Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner; This was from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes?

The word in this passage that has been translated “head of the corner” can be translated in a number of different ways. “Head of the corner” is the literal translation of the word, but that translation is outside our modern understanding. What does “head of the corner” mean? Translators have used the words capstone, keystone and cornerstone. Though these words have similar meanings, they are representative of stones that have slightly different purposes.

A capstone, or coping, is a stone that is used to finish the top of the wall. It is not just decorative; it is also protection for the wall. It helps hold the wall together. Coping stones are larger, or longer, than the bricks and stones used to build the wall, and therefore gives strength to the top. Capstones are also used as lintels, on the top of a doorway. The capstone supports everything above the door and also the posts that create the opening. The entrances to ancient tombs were often created by standing two stones side by side and placing a capstone on top of the two standing stones. I saw one of these doorways in England. The only parts of the structure to survive were the standing stones and the capstone, still standing because it was all held up by the capstone.

Another type of stone used in building is a keystone. A keystone is used in building an arch. It is the central, uppermost stone in the arch, often shaped slightly differently than the other stones to give the arch a decorative touch. I like this translation of the word because of the statement that the builders rejected the stone. The keystone need not be the strongest, largest or prettiest stone. It offers no support to the arch, but instead locks it together. To build an arch, the builder creates a form that will later be removed. The stones are carefully placed along the form. Finally, the keystone is put into place. The arch would fall if the form was removed before that keystone is in place, but once it is there, the arch stands strong. The builders rejected the stone because it was not big or perfect enough to use in a strong and longstanding building. But it can be a keystone.

The third translation is cornerstone. There are two types of cornerstones. When the builders began laying the foundation of a building, they place one square stone in the corner of the building site, making sure that the sides are perfectly aligned with where the sides of the building was designed to be. All the other stones are then placed in relation to the cornerstone. These stones were often marked and in ancient societies were given spiritual and superstitious power. We no longer normally lay a stone in the foundation of our buildings, so the cornerstone has become a purely informational and decorative feature of buildings. Inscribed with dates and the names of those responsible for the building, the cornerstone stands as a testament to the work of those people.

Isn’t it interesting that no matter how you define the phrase “head of the corner” you can still see Christ in its imagery? Jesus is the capstone, not only a physical and tangible manifestation of the highpoint of our faith but also that which holds together the walls of His people. Without the capstone or coping, the buildings would fall. Without the capstone, the doorways would fail. Jesus is the keystone. He was not the most powerful man or the one with the most earthly authority. He was in no position to rule. He was easily cast away by the leaders of the faith. The scriptures tell us He was abused, beaten and killed. Yet, the Church can not stand without Him. He locks us together. Jesus is also the cornerstone. He is both the stone laid in the foundation and the stone that testifies to the work of God. Without Him the church would be misaligned, the walls would be uneven and the building out of whack. Without Him we would still not recognize the God of grace from whom we have faith and hope and peace. Jesus is the “head of the corner” in every way, and this is truly marvelous in our eyes.


October 2, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, October 12, 2008: Isaiah 25:1-9; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

Isaiah 25:1-9 O Jehovah, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things, even counsels of old, in faithfulness and truth. For thou hast made of a city a heap, of a fortified city a ruin, a palace of strangers to be no city; it shall never be built. Therefore shall a strong people glorify thee; a city of terrible nations shall fear thee. For thou hast been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall. As the heat in a dry place wilt thou bring down the noise of strangers; as the heat by the shade of a cloud, the song of the terrible ones shall be brought low. And in this mountain will Jehovah of hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering that covereth all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He hath swallowed up death for ever; and the Lord Jehovah will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the reproach of his people will he take away from off all the earth: for Jehovah hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is Jehovah; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

This past summer, Victoria and I spent a lot of time getting her ready to go to college. We went shopping for the things she would need for her dorm, including items that would make it a more comfortable and homey place. College dorm rooms are not very welcoming. They are little more than a white-washed cinderblock square with very simple furniture. She needed things like a colorful comforter and pictures for her walls to make a place she could relax and do her work. She needed cleaning and health care supplies. She needed kitchen items like a kettle, silverware, plates and non-perishable food. We had fun together, trying to discover everything she would need to survive for the first time on her own.

While we were shopping together, I was working on a box filled with things that I knew she would need but thought she might not think about. I put some fun things that I knew she loves like her favorite type of gum and some chocolate. I included some items she already had but that would break like hair ties. I found some practical items like a screwdriver and envelopes. I put all these things inside a pretty box and wrapped it. We gave it to her when she moved into her room so that she could open it after we left and be reminded how much we love her and how we were always thinking about her needs.

Victoria was thinking more practically than I expected. As we were shopping, I often found her choosing items that I had already purchased for her box. I was able to steer her away from some items, but at one point I had to admit that I was preparing a surprise. In the end she was still surprised by some of the items I had placed in the box and she was thankful for the gift. She knew I was thinking ahead and considering all her needs even before she experienced them.

This Psalm begins with a hymn of thanksgiving in which the singer praises God for the things He has done, and for planning them long before there was ever a need. God knew at the beginning that His people would need Him. He knew they would fall. He knew they would be overcome. He knew they would face terrible enemies. And He promised to be faithful. He promised to protect them against the storm and the heat of the sun. Knowing that God has promised these things and that He is faithful, God’s people can go forth in faith even through the storms.

Even now, as we live in a time of fear and confusion, as we wonder what tomorrow will hold, we can sing the hymn of thanksgiving because God is still faithful. We can look forward to a day when things are better, knowing that it might not be comfortable or perfect for the moment because we will face times of trouble, but God is in control. He is with us and He can see beyond the moment. He has great things planned for His people and He will not allow us to be destroyed. There is a feast waiting for us, a feast we will enjoy in the day of the Lord. Our salvation is waiting for us on the other side of our fear and pain. Knowing this, we walk through the times of trouble with faith, praising God for all that will be because He has planned it and He is faithful.


October 3, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, October 12, 2008: Isaiah 25:1-9; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

Psalm 23 Jehovah is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside still waters. He restoreth my soul: He guideth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou hast anointed my head with oil; My cup runneth over. Surely goodness and lovingkindness shall follow me all the days of my life; And I shall dwell in the house of Jehovah for ever.

I was at a preschool a few weeks ago when the children were gathering for their naptime. One little girl was holding a blanket and a stuffed animal, comfort items she always clings to during her naps. The teacher made a comment about the items, trying to convince the little girl that she did not need those things. Now, preschool is a time for training children to be prepared for Kindergarten, and this training includes helping them give up those blankets and stuffed animals. However, I was somewhat saddened by the exchange because we make our children grow up so fast these days.

Besides, we all have things onto which we cling during times of stress and doubt and fear. We cling to them even when things are not going bad because they give us comfort and peace. As adults we do not take a blanket and stuffed animal to bed, but we do have other things we just do not want to do without. How many of us can’t face the day without a cup of coffee or cigarette? I know people who must hang certain pictures in their home or take special care of items they have which remind them of people they love or happy times.

How many turn to favorite foods when they need to be comforted? Rachel Ray has made a career out of teaching people how to make the comfort foods we all love in a way that is fast, easy and inexpensive. I remember when my father was very ill, I had found a place in Houston that sells Phillie steak sandwiches, a food that I loved growing up. I went to that place several times during the five weeks my dad was ill. The meal didn’t change anything, but it made me feel a little better.

Dogs have special toys, cats have a favorite place to sleep. Teenagers find comfort in talking on the phone to their best friends. Certain smells have an amazing affect on people, like baking bread or brownies. A widower will notice the smell of his wife’s perfume that still lingers in the closet. I think about my mom when I see pansies and my dad when I’m driving my car. We also have intangible things that bring us comfort. We find strength and courage through prayer, hope in something greater than ourselves, love in the faces of our family and peace in the knowledge that God is in control. We cling to these things in good times and bad.

Psalm 23 is probably the most used scripture in our lectionary; this is the third time this year alone. So, we have discussed it from so many different angles over the years. I have little to say because I know I’ve said it so many times before. This is one of those passages we hear so often, as it is a favorite for funerals. When we hear these words we hear the promises of God’s caring hand on our lives. He takes care of our every need, even as we walk through that shadowy valley.

However, this passage is not comforting to everyone, just as the things we cling to might not be comforting for others. Our blankets seem old and smelly, unnecessary to those who find comfort in less tangible things. For some, Psalm 23 is only identified with funerals, so all they remember is that it accompanies death. The Psalm will not bring comfort to that person, only more pain. It would do us well to remember that God has created each of us to be different. We are unique in not only our gifts and our personalities, but also in our needs. For one person, Psalm 23 might offer a glimpse into something wonderful while for another it will only bring pain. So, we are called to minister to each others in their needs, to help them find comfort during their own times of stress, doubt and fear.


October 6, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, October 12, 2008: Isaiah 25:1-9; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

Philippians 4:1-9 Wherefore, my brethren beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my beloved. I exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yea, I beseech thee also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice. Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. The things which ye both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

Have you ever known anyone who was perpetually happy? Have you known one of those people that no matter where they are, no matter what is happening in their life they have a smile on their face? In the movie “Sister Act” starring Whoopi Goldberg, Kathy Najimy played Sister Mary Patrick, an upbeat nun who helped Sister Mary Clarence (Whoopi) find her place in the convent. Sister Mary Clarence was actually Delores Van Cartier, a Las Vegas headliner who was in hiding because her boyfriend had threatened her life. The convent life was far from Delores’s comfort zone and no matter how temporary it was to be, she needed people to help her adjust.

In one scene, Sister Mary Clarence and Sister Mary Patrick were sitting together, chatting about their lives. Slightly annoyed by the constant giddiness, Sister Mary Clarence asked Sister Mary Patrick if she was always so happy. Sister Mary Patrick answered, “Yes” and said that her mother thought she would grow up to be either a stewardess or a nun. Most of us look at people like her with the same annoyance as Delores. We can’t imagine always being happy. It is exhausting to be with them, how much more exhausting must it be to be them?

Yet Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice.” Always is a very long time. Sister Mary Clarence seems to have found that place where she seems to be always rejoicing, but I don’t know many people who can get there. We go through a whole range of emotions, sometimes in just minutes. Even as we watch the movie “Sister Act” we experience fear, worry, sadness, hope, doubt and happiness. We react to the experiences of those characters on screen and we respond with smiles as well as tears.

However, rejoicing need not manifest merely as giddiness. Sister Mary Clarence has that kind of happiness, even in tough times, because she always sees the glass as half full. But we can rejoice even as we cry tears of pain and doubt because in this passage Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord.” This is different than mere happiness. This is living out trust in God and responding to the world with a steadfast faith that is visible to the world. It does not mean we have to smile at all moments, but it means standing firm in the promises of God knowing that He is faithful. It means praising God even in the midst of the pain and trouble that we experience. It means being thankful, even when it seems like there is nothing to be thankful for.

Sadly, this letter was written by Paul in part because two fellow co-workers for Christ were at odds. We don’t know why Euodia and Syntyche were fighting, but I’m sure we all know people who disagree with one another. Each is passionate about their opinion and are willing to fight for what they believe to be right and true. That is certainly true right now in the United States as politics has divided our nation. Many are divided over religion, also, even Christians. Perhaps Euodia and Syntyche had differing opinions about certain doctrines of faith or the direction of the new and growing Church. It would be impossible to find full agreement in the pews of our churches today, let alone between church bodies.

But Paul says, “Be of the same mind.” Does this mean that we have to agree fully about every detail of our faith? Some might think so, but Paul goes on to talk about rejoicing in the Lord. Despite our differences (differences that occur because God has created us as unique individuals), we can be of the same mind, praising God in all circumstances, even when things are not going so well. We can share the peace of God as we dwell in the love of God in Christ Jesus, instead of dwelling in our differences. As Paul writes, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good—think on these things.” Jesus Christ is all this, and in Him we can rejoice together, singing praise and thanksgiving to God.


October 7, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, October 12, 2008: Isaiah 25:1-9; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

Matthew 22:1-14 And Jesus answered and spake again in parables unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a certain king, who made a marriage feast for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the marriage feast: and they would not come. Again he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them that are bidden, Behold, I have made ready my dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come to the marriage feast. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his merchandise; and the rest laid hold on his servants, and treated them shamefully, and killed them. But the king was wroth; and he sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they that were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore unto the partings of the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage feast. And those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was filled with guests. But when the king came in to behold the guests, he saw there a man who had not on a wedding-garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and cast him out into the outer darkness; there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few chosen.

Matthew writes, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” We tend to read this with some sense of haughtiness, since we who are believers consider ourselves amongst the chosen. We also deem ourselves as ‘one of the few,’ even separated from others who are counted among the believers. We think we are special, set aside because of our gifts and abilities rather than because of God’s grace. It is easy for us to think the verse refers to those who had been invited but who rejected the call to the banquet.

But the verse does not seem to fit in this story. After all, it comes just after a brief aside in which Matthew discusses one guest who has not put on the wedding garments. Only one guest is kicked out, only one guest is sent to the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Of the many who entered, only one is removed. I don’t think Matthew meant to say that the one sent out is the ‘one chosen.’ Instead, we are given something to think about. The person thrown out of the party had entered. He had accepted the invitation and was let in to enjoy the feast. But there was something he did not do. He did not wear the wedding garments.

We do not follow this tradition in our society, but in those days the host gave clean robes to the guests. They had traveled far on dusty roads. The robes were a gift from the host, so that the guests would feel fresh and clean for the feast. It showed a lack of respect for the host and for the gift to not refuse to wear the robe. It is suggested that the guest was cast out because he had not changed his ways or repented of his ‘grime.’ But we must be careful how much credence we put to that idea. There are many who think that none are welcome who have not yet become righteous according to a set of rules. They say that the guest was one who was still a sinner. Yet, every guest in that room still had the dust and dirt from the road, it was simply covered by the wedding garment. The guest was not cast out because he was grimy and dirty from the road, but because he rejected the gift that had been given.

So, as we consider this story, we wonder about who in today’s world are the ones invited who refused to come, the ones who came and wore the garment and the one who came but refused the gift. We might want to categorize our friends or neighbors, judging few to be ‘the chosen,’ while we automatically put ourselves into that category. We would do well to ensure that we are not basing our judgment on our own gifts and abilities, but to see that our welcome into the banquet is fully and wholely based on God’s invitation and His gift. If we expect to enjoy the banquet based on our own good works, our own righteousness, we will be sadly mistaken. It is only by the gift of the wedding robe, the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that we will be received at the great and glorious banquet which God is planning for us.


October 8, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, October 12, 2008: Isaiah 25:1-9; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

I found this on a website, “Seems the Oxford philosophy exam normally requires an eight page essay answer, studded with source material, quotes and analytical reasoning. But one student handed the following back and aced the exam: Oxford Examination Board 1987 Essay Question: 1.1a What is courage? (50 Marks) Answer: This is courage.”

Now, most of the students went into that exam with a great deal of trepidation. I don’t know if they had the question ahead of time, but I imagine they must have since they were required to add source materials. It would be impossible for even the best students to be prepared for an eight page essay with source material if they did not have some notice to prepare. I can see them worrying in the days and weeks leading up to the exam about whether or not they could even accomplish an eight page essay in the time limit. Would they answer the question in a matter satisfactory to the professor? Would they get a good enough grade? How will this test affect their grade point average?

That one student took a different direction with this essay. Instead of working hard to come up with a dozen sources, pre-planning the essay and worrying about the test, he or she came up with a brilliant answer. It was courageous to just write, “This is courage.” What is courageous about not doing the work? Courage is trusting that the professor will see the brilliance and humor in the short but powerful answer. It is courageous to do something different even if there is some risk involved. It is courageous to face a difficult situation without worry.

Living a life of praise and thanksgiving to God is a life which Paul says will be without worry. Trusting in God’s promises, we look toward tomorrow with peace and joy rather than fear and doubt. Perhaps this is a message that is most relevant to our time today. After all, we are looking at a world that seems to be collapsing and we do not know what is going to happen that we walk with fear. And while I doubt that God is planning a financial takeover of the world banks, I do know that God is in control of the world which He has created. Even if times get frighteningly bad, we can look to Him for peace and hope.

Paul writes that we should rejoice always. It is difficult to rejoice when we do not know what is going to happen tomorrow, but we do not face our troubles alone. “The Lord is near.” This promise is the foundation of everything we do today and always. As someone once said, “Worry is unconscious blasphemy.” Worry is self-centered. When we worry we focus on our own inability to handle the problems in the world. It makes us and our works the center of our attention. Worry is the opposite of faith. Instead of worry, we are called to live in prayer and thanksgiving, knowing that God is able.

The guest at the banquet who refused to put on the gift is like the person who worries. The worrier does not recognize that God is near, that He has offered something of great value worth rejoicing always. This is certainly easier to type in words than to exhibit in actions, yet Paul gives us suggestions of ways to begin. Do whatever is honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable. Think about that which is worthy of praise. Follow the lessons learned from those who have walked in faith before us. As we do these things the peace of God will be with us. The peace is with us anyway, because where God is, His peace follows. But as we live in praise and thanksgiving, we will recognize the peace and rejoice. We might even bring some hope to our neighbors and change the world by sharing that peace.


October 9, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, October 19, 2008: Isaiah 45:1-7; Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

Isaiah 45:1-7 Thus saith Jehovah to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him, and I will loose the loins of kings; to open the doors before him, and the gates shall not be shut: I will go before thee, and make the rough places smooth; I will break in pieces the doors of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron; and I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that it is I, Jehovah, who call thee by thy name, even the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel my chosen, I have called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me. I am Jehovah, and there is none else; besides me there is no God. I will gird thee, though thou hast not known me; that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none besides me: I am Jehovah, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil. I am Jehovah, that doeth all these things.

A well-known English deist, Anthony Collins of the seventeenth century, was walking one day when he crossed paths with a commoner. “Where are you going?” asked Collins. The man answered that he was going to church to worship God. Collins wondered whether the man’s God was a great or a little God. The man answered, “Both.” Collins did not understand how that could be. The man answered, “He is so great, sir, that the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him; and so little that He can dwell in my heart.” Collins later declared that this simple answer had more effect on his mind than all the volumes he had ever read about God, and all the lectures he had ever heard.

In Isaiah we read, “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil. I am Jehovah, that doeth all these things.” We are terribly bothered by this idea that God creates evil. There are many who would claim that they can not believe in a God that would create evil, that He is only capable of goodness and love. That’s why so many people are bothered by the Old Testament and the revelation of God that is found there. They are bothered by war and suffering, which fill the pages of the Old Testament, often as ways which God is communicating with His people. The exile was given by God’s hand to His disobedient people. How could the God of love found in the New Testament stories be the same God we hear about in this passage?

How could God choose a foreigner to be His anointed one? The word used here is Messiah or Christ, and Cyrus plays the role of the deliverer of God’s people. Though he does not even know the God of Israel, God has called him to gain salvation for His people. This doesn’t make sense to us because we want to define God according to our own needs and expectations. We want Him to be all light and no darkness, compassion and no discipline, mercy and justice as we characterize it.

How do you describe God? In today’s society, there are many different ideas about the nature of God. So many people are looking to fill the hole in their souls, a hole that can only be filled by the One, True and living God. Yet, if you visit the spiritual section of any secular bookstore, you will find large displays of books that teach different ideas about God, even the belief in many gods. There are religions that make the things of creation – nature, materials or man himself – to be gods. The limited ability of human beings to understand the vast truth about the LORD causes us to look for explanations in the things we can see. But God tells us the Truth in His Word.

There is a difference between the idea of God that is revealed in the Old Testament and that which we see in the New Testament. That difference is Jesus Christ. He came to reconcile God and His creation, giving those who believe in Him the gift of the Holy Spirit so we can seek His face and understand His nature. He is both big and small: bigger than creation, but small enough to live in our hearts. He is so big that everything must submit to His authority, but He humbled Himself and became flesh in Jesus Christ so that we can know Him intimately. And while there is still darkness amongst the light, we have the promise that the Light has won the victory and that one day we will see, know and experience God fully and completely. God is big enough to do so, but also small enough for us to know intimately. That’s good to know.


October 10, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, October 19, 2008: Isaiah 45:1-7; Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13] Oh sing unto Jehovah a new song: Sing unto Jehovah, all the earth. Sing unto Jehovah, bless his name; Show forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, His marvellous works among all the peoples. For great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised: He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols; But Jehovah made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him: Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Ascribe unto Jehovah, ye kindreds of the peoples, Ascribe unto Jehovah glory and strength. Ascribe unto Jehovah the glory due unto his name: Bring an offering, and come into his courts. Oh worship Jehovah in holy array: Tremble before him, all the earth. [Say among the nations, Jehovah reigneth: The world also is established that it cannot be moved: He will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; Let the field exult, and all that is therein; Then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy before Jehovah; for he cometh, For he cometh to judge the earth: He will judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with his truth.]

Kristen Wiig is one of the “Saturday Night Live” players, a regular for four seasons. She plays many different characters, including an excitable clerk at the Target store who is always annoying the customers with chit chat and trips from behind the register to go pick up items for herself. The New York Times wrote this about Kristen, “Kristen Wiig has become a household name on "SNL" by playing outrageous versions of people we've all had the misfortune to encounter.”

One of my favorite, but equally repulsed by, characters is Penelope a woman who feels that she has to one-up everything that everyone says. If another character says that they had a baby, she had twins. If another character says that he speaks four languages, she speaks twelve. By the end of the skit, Penelope has disclosed some of the most bizarre and disturbing claims to the people to whom she is speaking. Victoria says the whole character freaks her out.

We all know a Penelope, although hopefully not as extreme as the character on the television show. We all know the guy who thinks he knows it all and the woman who has accomplished every thing possible. Perhaps we all have a bit of Penelope in all of us. We try to one-up our neighbor because it makes us feel more important. And yet, in doing so, we make ourselves seem much less, even petty. By the end of the skit, Kirsten’s character Penelope is seen as a ridiculous person, a joke. So do we, when we insist on raising ourselves above our neighbors instead of lifting them up with praise and encouragement.

The psalmist writes, “For all the gods of the peoples are idols; But Jehovah made the heavens.” We make so many people in our world idols – sports stars, singers, models – but the definitions of the word ‘idol’ are less than flattering. Merriam-Webster says an ‘idol’ is “a representation or symbol of an object of worship, a false god, a likeness of something, a form or appearance visible but without substance, an object of extreme devotion, a false conception.” Not only are the gods of the nations less than our God Jehovah, they are nothing. We make our idols, eve if they are ourselves. But that does not mean we are truly greater than our neighbor, even if our one-upmanship is true. Even if we did have more babies or speak more languages, we are not greater than our neighbor. And we are far less than our God. Especially when we look at all He has done.

There is no way we can one-up the Lord. That’s why we are called to sing His praise. He has done great things. He has brought salvation to His people. He made the heavens. That’s something, and Someone, to sing about.


October 13, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, October 19, 2008: Isaiah 45:1-7; Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father; knowing, brethren beloved of God, your election, how that our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance; even as ye know what manner of men we showed ourselves toward you for your sake. And ye became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit; so that ye became an ensample to all that believe in Macedonia and in Achaia. For from you hath sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith to God-ward is gone forth; so that we need not to speak anything. For they themselves report concerning us what manner of entering in we had unto you; and how ye turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivereth us from the wrath to come.

Have you ever mailed an envelope that you did not trust the seal? What do you do if you think that it will open? Most envelopes come with excellent glue, and when the items inside the envelope are not too personal or important, I usually just trust that it will work. However, there are times when I am uncertain about the glue, so I add a bit of tape. I even do this when I use larger envelopes that have additional security of a clasp. I use those envelopes when I am sending something larger, something thick like a book or pile of papers. I am afraid that the flap will be opened too easily, so I add some tape. It gives me a sense of security when the envelope is mailed.

I want to seal my kids when they walk out the door. Perhaps that sounds strange, but what I mean is that I want to ensure that they remember everything I’ve taught them. So, as they walk out the door and I wish them a good day, I also add a message that I hope will help them make good choices as they go out into the world. I tell them to be careful, to have fun, to do what is right. When they are headed to a special activity, I add an appropriate word of encouragement or instruction. I remind them of things we’ve talked about, lessons we’ve learned. They might think I am a nag, but I really just want to put a seal on the things I want them to remember when they are on their own. Will they listen? I can only hope so, but I can trust that the lessons they’ve learned are written on their hearts and in their heads and that they will do what is right and good.

Paul had taken the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of Thessalonica and they received that message. They gathered together as a community of believers and were growing in grace and hope and faith. Paul could not stay with all the communities he began, but he kept in touch with them through letters and through helpers who visited the congregations and sent word to Paul wherever he was staying. The Thessalonians were doing well. Timothy had sent a good report to Paul and Paul was pleased to hear the good news. There wasn’t good news in every community. Some people preaching another Gospel were following Paul, speaking against Paul and telling the people something completely different. There was a similar threat in Thessalonica.

They were holding strong, but Paul did not know how long they could last. Would they remember the lessons he taught them? Would they keep the Gospel of grace or turn to another gospel message? Would they believe the lies being told about him by those opposed to his message? Paul did not know what might happen next, so he wrote a message of thanksgiving and encouragement to the congregation. He put a seal on the people so that they would not fall from grace and turn to a faith built on works and self-righteousness.

So, too, we are encouraged by these words as Paul lifts all those who have heard the Gospel and received God’s grace to a place where we will stand firm in what is right no matter the circumstances we face. Our hope is in Jesus Christ and we are called to live the life of faith that rests in His promise and His forgiveness. Paul calls the people of Thessalonica ‘imitators’ of the apostle and of the Lord. We saw that continued through generations of Christians, into those who were our mentors. We are now the next generation, sharing the Gospel with our children and our neighbors, imitating what Paul first lived so that the world might see God’s grace. We, too, are sealed so that all we do and say are firmly founded in Jesus Christ.


October 14, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, October 19, 2008: Isaiah 45:1-7; Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

Matthew 22:15-22 Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might ensnare him in his talk. And they send to him their disciples, with the Herodians, saying, Teacher, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, and carest not for any one: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why make ye trial of me, ye hypocrites? Show me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a denarius. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. And when they heard it, they marvelled, and left him, and went away.

Most of us probably have a quarter in our pocket or purse that was minted as part of the State Quarters Program. The first quarter was from Delaware and was released in January 1999. Since that day a new quarter has been released every few months in order of statehood. The most recent quarter was Alaska, with only Hawaii left to mint. The front of the quarter still bears the likeness of George Washington, but the back has pictures of those things that are identified with the state and the date of statehood. Georgia has a peach. New York has the Statue of Liberty. Kentucky has a racehorse. Arkansas has a diamond.

It is fascinating to see what people consider most important. If you are unfamiliar with the state, the pictures might not make sense. After all, what does Arkansas have to do with diamonds? Well, there is a state park in Murfreesboro Arkansas where you can ‘mine’ for diamonds. Actually, it is a field where you can dig for natural gems. Apparently somewhere below the surface of this field is a source of gemstones, including diamonds, which rise to the top of the soil. For a few dollars admission, you can go dig in the dirt and keep everything you find, including the diamonds. They have a sluice where you can take buckets of dirt to sort through using water for cleansing the stones. People have found amazing stones, including the Uncle Sam Diamond, the largest diamond ever discovered in North America. It was a total of 40.23 carats.

Most money, if not all money, includes a picture of someone special. British money has a portrait of the reigning monarch. It is interesting to see how Queen Elizabeth’s portrait has changed over the more than fifty years she has served. Other monarchies also use pictures of their ruler. United States currency generally honors former U.S. presidents, although there is a one dollar coin with the picture of Native American Sacagawea. The coins also include statements about foundational beliefs about the nation and symbols of things important to its people. In America it would be impossible for Jesus to say “Give to George Washington what is George Washington’s” because George Washington is no longer alive. I suppose that is why we do not put pictures of living men and women on the currency and coins. The money does not belong to our leaders; it belongs to the people.

We choose those pictures because those are men and women who were important to our history, just as the pictures on the state coins are important to the people of those states. They mean something, they are identifying marks. They are, almost, the things we idealize or even idolize about the place we live. We don’t take the literal understanding of the commandment that says “no graven images” as seriously as they did in Jesus’ day. It is impossible for us to live in a world without money. It is part of our society, a part of our existence. We no longer barter for the things we need. We need money to survive. But for those Pharisees and their counselors, the coinage would have been offensive because it had a graven image. It had an image of the Caesar. We don’t pay much attention to that moment because for us it is natural to have a few coins in our pocket, but the Jews should not have had a Roman coin.

We tend to view this scripture as a statement about separating Church and State, and yet there is something deeper and much more important about what Jesus is saying here. The phrase that stands out is “Give to God what is God’s.” Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees and their council was brilliant because it turned the tables. They thought they were going to catch Him one way or another: either He would upset the Romans by telling the people not to pay taxes, or He would upset the people by telling them they should pay taxes. He did neither. He told them to give Caesar what is Caesar’s and God what is God. In other words, they were to give the idol back to the idolized and give God everything that is good and right and true. For everything belongs to God. When we remember that, we see that even the government is given by God, not as a divine representative of what He wants to accomplish, but as a divinely appointed servant for a particular time and place. Good and bad, God is in control of our world and we can live in trust knowing that in the end everything will be as He intends.


October 15, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, October 19, 2008: Isaiah 45:1-7; Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

Oh sing unto Jehovah a new song: Sing unto Jehovah, all the earth.

I have been writing MIDWEEK OASIS, my midweek devotional based on the lectionary, for almost six years. I began using the lectionary for A WORD FOR TODAY for almost three years. In those years I have managed to get through most of the three year lectionary texts. There are a few weeks that I’ve missed, but I can often go back and see how I understood the texts a few years ago, to get ideas for how to focus on them this time. Sometimes the message makes sense in this day; sometimes I see things very different.

When I went to check MIDWEEK OASIS for three years ago, I realized that this was the period of time when I was in Pennsylvania dealing with my father’s funeral and his estate. I didn’t write about any of the past few weeks’ scriptures because I had my mind on other things. I also missed worship those weeks, so I hadn’t paid much attention to the lectionary. Would I have seen the same thing? I don’t know. For the past few weeks, I have seen a focus on our relationship with our government. This may be because of our current political process.

I was thinking about that time three years ago, when I had to take care of the business of my father’s estate. I had to stay in Pennsylvania a few days longer than my family because the offices I needed to visit were not open over the holiday weekend. I was nervous about filing those papers that made me legally responsible for the business of my father’s will. I was frustrated about some of the hoops I had to jump through to pay his bills, take care of his bank accounts and divide the leftovers equitably between my siblings. My father had very little and the process was actually rather simple. A friend of mine lost her mother just weeks after my dad died and it took her years to settle the estate. Hard or easy, it is still amazing how much our lives are connected to our government. Whether we like it or not, we have a relationship with the secular world and we have to learn how to live with it.

The first thing to remember is that wherever we are and whatever we do, God is with us. We live in a society where our religious and faith beliefs do not keep us separated from the world in which we live. We have to follow secular laws, deal with non-Christian people, respect leaders who might not have the same ideology as we follow. I don’t usually talk about politics in these devotions, because that is not the purpose of my writing. A WORD FOR TODAY has always been written to help the readers see God in their everyday life and recognize His voice that comes to us through the world in which we live.

We sometimes forget that God can speak through people who do not agree with us. If He can speak His word to someone through a donkey (Numbers 20) then He can speak to us through people who do not believe as we do. Cyrus was not a Jew. He was a pagan whom God chose to serve His will. Cyrus delivered the Jews out of exile; he was for God’s purposes their messiah at that time and place. God was in control and God chose a foreigner to do what His people could not, or would not, do. Jesus did not tell the people to pay or not pay taxes, He reminded them that everything belongs to God.

We live in a world that requires we deal with people and situations we might not want to experience. We are called as Christians to live in trust and hope. Whatever happens today, tomorrow or on Election Day, we can trust that God is in control. If our guy wins or loses, God can make His will happen through it all. We live in hope, not in individuals or even the government, but in God’s promises. Good or bad, our life of faith will keep us focused on what is good and that is God. We may be nervous, frustrated, anxious and possibly angry, and we won’t agree with our neighbors what is good and bad in our world. But let us remember to join together as we sing to the Lord that new song, the song of thanksgiving that He is with us through it all. He binds us together not on our hope for the world, but on the hope that He brings through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.


October 16, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, October 26, 2008: Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; Psalm 1; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46

Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy; for I Jehovah your God am holy. Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty; but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor. Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbor: I am Jehovah. Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart: thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people; but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am Jehovah.

I heard a story on the radio this morning but I have not been able to verify it. I share it only because I have heard similar stories before but I can remember more of the details of this story. There was a man in Florida who owned a trailer that was vacant, so he offered it to a couple who had become homeless due to a hurricane. Soon after moving in, the couple decided to sue the Good Samaritan to gain possession of the trailer. The couple is legally considered squatters, so according to Florida law, so the man can not evict them. He tried to turn off the electricity, for which they were not paying, but they borrowed a child to live with them and because of a state law meant to protect the welfare of children, he was required to keep the electricity turned on. So, something that started as an act of compassion has turned into an act of injustice.

I attended a lecture last night with Keith Bowden, writer of “The Tecate Journals, Seventy Days on the Rio Grande.” He began the speech with tales of his youth and his intense dislike of school. He told the students that he had dropped out as soon as he turned sixteen and he set out to travel around the country. He ended up in Florida and hung out with some other transients he’d met along the way. They worked the farms, picking oranges for $7.00 a day. They lived day to day, partying with their paycheck each night, never considering what will happen tomorrow. One morning they slept in too late and missed the truck to the farm. They had no money for food, so they went to the local grocery store where they had spent their money. Thinking that they deserved it because they had already left so much money in the cash tills, the young men went around the store opening packages and eating whatever they wanted. When Keith opened a carton of milk and began drinking from it right there, he was arrested for shoplifting. He thought it was unfair because he thought he earned the right to eat that food.

There is no doubt that there are homeless and hungry people who need our help and God has called us through faith to act as His hands to provide mercy and justice to those who are suffering in our world today. Unfortunately, the stories of those abusing the systems meant to protect make so many who want to be Good Samaritans hesitant out of fear that their kindness will be turned against them. It is also unfortunate that many people think that justice means that the little guy wins and the big guy loses no matter what.

In Leviticus 19, God tells Moses how His people can live as He calls them to live – as holy people. He calls them to be holy because He is holy. The chapter includes a list of commandments, rules to follow to manifest that holy life. The rules show a connection between holiness and the separation of God’s people from the things that are profane. Holy people respect mother, father and honor God by keeping the Sabbath. Holy people do not turn to idols. They follow prescribed ritual properly, and leave some of the harvest for the poor and the foreigners. They do not lie, steal, cheat or defraud their neighbors. They pay their debts. They treat the disabled with respect and consideration.

Our scriptures do not include those commandments, but then begins at verse 15. “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” I think this is, perhaps, where we have lost our way when it comes to living the life of holiness we are called to live. How did it start? I do not know. It is a vicious circle that human nature travels. We show favoritism to the rich and then the pendulum swings to the opposite extreme where we show partiality to the poor. We always manage to find a way to make our understanding follow Biblical precepts, and yet we never seem to find the real path God has called us to live.

So, we ask ourselves today: how do we live that life of holiness? How do we act in good, right and truly just ways? And most importantly, how do we really love our neighbors as ourselves?


October 17, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, October 26, 2008: Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; Psalm 1; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46

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

A former pastor did a sermon series about the Beatitudes, those wonderful statements that talk about the attributes of those who are blessed by God found in Matthew 5 and Luke 6. He called these statements the “blessed attitudes” because those who see the world from those points of view and react to it from those perspectives are blessed. They don’t seem like blessings. Poverty, mourning, meekness, hunger and thirst are not points of view from which any of us wish to see the world, but in faith we know that God is with those who suffer these things. When God is near, we are blessed.

Sometimes the Beatitudes are translated “Happy are they” instead of “Blessed are they” but they mean the same thing. We generally think of happiness in terms that can be expressed with a ‘smiley face,’ a manifestation of good feelings about life. Yet, the most common understanding of the word ‘happy’ according to Merriam-Webster’s diction is “favored by luck or fortune.” In the case of the beatitudes, the favor comes from something more true than luck or fortune: God. When God blesses, we have reason to be happy.

In this case, the happy one is the person who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of scoffers. Walk, stand or sit, the blessed one is the person who drinks in the Word of God, meditating on the scriptures like a tree next to a stream drinks in the passing water. There is something to the progression of these actions. As we walk in counsel we order our life according to what we have heard. As we stand in that message we position ourselves with it. As we sit we settle into the position we have chosen. When walking we can change our path. When standing we can turn around. When sitting, we are set in our ways. So, it is important to find the right direction while we are walking so that we won’t settle into the wrong ways.

In the story of “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy and Toto set off to find the Emerald City by following the yellow brick road. They soon come to a crossroads in the midst of a field. There, Dorothy wonders which direction she should go. Scarecrow first points one direction, then the other, then both directions. After a little song and dance, Dorothy, Toto and Scarecrow head down a road with complete trust in their decision. For the next hour, they face all sorts of dangers, make friends and eventually end up at their destination. I always wondered what would have happened had they chosen another road. Why were all the roads in yellow brick? Did they all lead to the Emerald City? Would one road have been easier than another would?

I know that “The Wizard of Oz” is just a story, but how many of us have experienced what can happen when we get on the wrong road? I’ve made the mistake of getting off the wrong exit or missing my exit, leaving me in the difficult position of finding my way to my destination. Sometimes it is easy, sometimes it is not so easy. Wrong turns have put me into horrible traffic jams, dangerous neighborhoods and made me late to the places I was trying to find. A wrong turn once put me in the path of a drunk driver, totaling my car and nearly killing me.

We are called as Christians to follow the right path. When we love the Lord, we live according to His promises and obey His commands. When we obey God’s Word, in the name of Jesus, then goodness and mercy will shine through our lives, and the fruit of His Spirit will be produced abundantly. The more we study the scriptures and live in God’s Word, the better equipped we are to share Christ with those we meet. Blessed are those who meditate on God’s Word, drawing ever closer to our Lord Jesus Christ where we live as people who are blessed, happy. And then Christ will shine out of our lives into the world that others might be blessed, happy.


October 20, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, October 26, 2008: Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; Psalm 1; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 For yourselves, brethren, know our entering in unto you, that it hath not been found vain: but having suffered before and been shamefully treated, as ye know, at Philippi, we waxed bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God in much conflict. For our exhortation is not of error, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: but even as we have been approved of God to be intrusted with the gospel, so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God who proveth our hearts. For neither at any time were we found using words of flattery, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness, God is witness; nor seeking glory of men, neither from you nor from others, when we might have claimed authority as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle in the midst of you, as when a nurse cherisheth her own children: even so, being affectionately desirous of you, we were well pleased to impart unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were become very dear to us.

When I first signed on to the Internet, the concept was still very new. We paid per minute charges for our time online on dial-up through America Online. By the time we moved to England, AOL had high usage plans which saved me a lot of money. However, in England we also paid a per minute charge for our phone service. Our online time was costing us nearly two hundred dollars a month, and most of that was from my use. I spent a great deal of time in Christian chat rooms and participating in email discussion groups. Some people joke, “I love my computer because all my friends are in there.” When I was in England, I had a few friends (although with the military people come and go so fast) in the community, but most of my friends were online.

My time in the Christian chat rooms was often spent debating other Christians about doctrine and theology. It was sometimes spent debating non-Christians about the things of God. At times I came across people who had a very real problem they needed to talk about or were seriously seeking to know more about God and Christianity. I spent so much time in those rooms because it was a very real ministry in a virtual world.

One of the biggest problems with the online life is the fact that the people you ‘meet’ can be anything they want to be. It is a medium that allows complete anonymity. You can be anyone you want and it is so easy to have multiple identities. Though most people have only one screen name, there were a number of people who had several and they flitted from one to another with just a click of a button. Their true identity often showed through their words after a time, but we never really knew if a stranger was someone we’d met previously.

Now, because of this anonymity, many people ministered much differently than they would have if they were meeting people face to face. They were passionate about what they had to say, but not very passionate about the people to whom they were saying it. They didn’t care what happened after the encounter. As long as they did what they felt called to do – to speak a word into the lives of virtual strangers – they didn’t care how it was received. The trouble is, everyone is special. We all hear words based on many factors such as our geography, culture, experience, gender and race. We have different understandings about the meaning of words. We see the world from unique points of view and a few words are easily misunderstood or understood in a way that is actually opposite from the speakers real meaning. There is no doubt that Satan ‘wanders the halls’ of online chat rooms twisting the words of well-meaning people into something contradictory to God’s real word.

Paul writes, “…being affectionately desirous of you, we were well pleased to impart unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were become very dear to us.” Paul traveled extensively, planting churches in many cities. He always moved on to a new place, but he never left the congregations that were gathering and growing in his wake. He had friends who visited, and he even returned occasionally as his scheduled permitted. He wrote letters to the congregations, helping them to grow but also to stand firm. He didn’t just lay the Gospel on them and then abandon them to their own means of growing in faith. He nurtures them, keeps them accountable, rebukes their sin and corrects their error. He praises their faith and encourages them to bear good fruit. He thanks them for their work for Christ, for the Church and for him.

We are encouraged to do the same. Our task is not just to take the Gospel to all nations, but to also teach them to obey all that Christ commanded (Matthew 28.) We should not give them only a word, but our whole selves. We are called to love them, not just with a call to believe but with an invitation into a relationship with Christ, His Church and us. I suppose that is why I do not spend as much time on the Internet in chat rooms. I’ve learned that it is important to be more than a virtual stranger on a screen. It is easy to speak a word into cyberspace. But it is far more fruitful to share faith with someone face to face and to follow-up with them so that they will be made into disciples for Christ.


October 21, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, October 26, 2008: Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; Psalm 1; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46

Matthew 22:34-46 But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, gathered themselves together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, trying him: Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law? And he said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second like unto it is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments the whole law hangeth, and the prophets. Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, What think ye of the Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in the Spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Till I put thine enemies underneath thy feet? If David then calleth him Lord, how is he his son? And no one was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.

We think of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day as being wholly against Jesus. We do know that from the earliest days of Jesus’ ministry, the temple leaders schemed to be rid of the man who threatened their position with the Romans and with the Jewish people. It is not surprising that these leaders would come to Jesus with questions. They were testing Him and we want to condemn them for doing so. Yet, in these days nearing the presidential election in the United States, is it not our responsibility to test those who wish to lead us? Today’s scripture comes in the midst of a series of tests by the religious leaders, but it is helpful to put it in the larger context of Jesus’ life and ministry.

According to Matthew, Jesus has already entered triumphantly into Jerusalem (Matthew 21). He has been to the temple courts and disrupted the sale of sacrificial offerings and money changing. His authority has been questioned and He has already hinted at His true nature and purpose as the Messiah sent by God to save Israel. Despite His amazing works, there were some who doubted Jesus. His words did not fit their understanding. His actions seemed real, but also contradictory and blasphemous. Throughout the stories, there were a few who seemed willing to give Jesus the chance, but fear held them back. It is very human to be concerned with our own position and future. Jesus exposed them and jeopardized their livelihood. It is no wonder that they wanted to test Him.

We should test those who want to be our leaders, asking the tough questions. Sometimes the questions are meant to trap, and the scriptures are clear that some of the leaders wanted to trap Jesus so that they could destroy His ministry, and possibly destroy Him. The question about taxes was certainly designed to trap Him: they thought that they could turn Jesus over as the scapegoat in their fears about the Romans and the people of Israel. If they could trap Him, they would no longer have to fear that He would destroy them.

Yet, in this passage, the Pharisees asked, “Which is the greatest commandment?” Is this not an excellent question to ask a man who was “campaigning” to be the spiritual leader of God’s special people? Since the Law is so important to the Jews, it would help to know what Jesus thought was the most important law. Jesus answered well. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” He pulled that phrase out of the Shema, the Jewish prayer regularly said by the people. It tied their common confession with the first commandment given to them by God. And, by loving God with the whole self, God’s people will be obedient to all that God has said and commanded because love for God is manifested in holiness.

Jesus added a second command, also an excellent answer. It comes from Leviticus 19:18 and takes love for God a step further. All of creation, including our neighbors no matter who they are, are an extension of God’s love. When we love our neighbor, we are like God, loving all that He created. Our love for God can be manifested in a religious life, but God calls us to manifest our love for Him by loving others. Love for neighbor can be tangible, while love for God can be only spiritual. The life of faith is not merely a spiritual existence, but is very much an earthbound experience in which God’s love flows outward to the world.

The religious leaders had nothing to say about Jesus’ answer, or if they did we do not hear their words. Jesus immediately goes to the root of their problem and asks them, “What think ye of the Christ? whose son is he?” They had a good answer, “The son of David.” That’s the promise, the fulfillment of which they were waiting to see. But Jesus turned the scriptures around on them. He wondered how this could be, since David Himself called the Messiah his Lord. Jesus was bringing their earthly understanding of their hope to a spiritual place—the Messiah would not be a king like they expect, but would be something much more. So, while the Pharisees expected the Messiah to be an earthly king to rule over the Law, Jesus turned their hopes upside down and begs them to look to Him. This exchanged finally silenced them.


October 22, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, October 26, 2008: Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; Psalm 1; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46

Or Reformation Sunday: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36

John 8:31-36 Jesus therefore said to those Jews that had believed him, If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered unto him, We are Abraham's seed, and have never yet been in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Every one that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin. And the bondservant abideth not in the house for ever: the son abideth for ever. If therefore the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

Reformation Day is on October 31st. On this day we remember the bold action of Martin Luther, who in 1517 posted ninety-five theses on the door of Wittenberg Church. The theses were written to open debate between scholars about the abuses in the Church at that time. This began a reform movement that sought to restore the Church the Christ built. Luther, other reformers and those who followed them were fighting against a body that had lost touch with God’s grace. Religion was much like it was in the day of Jesus Christ, with leaders determined to keep or enhance their positions and power. It was a religion that burdened God’s people with Law, losing touch with the center of God’s salvation: the cross. They sold indulgences to raise funds to build a massive new church building in Rome and they did this by feeding the fears of hell that were held by the people. They made the people believe that the only way they would make it to heaven was to pay for it. They even offered salvation for those who had already died: they could pay to free their loved ones who were wallowing in purgatory.

Luther was a priest and a teacher, burdened heavily by his calling. He feared sin and he feared that his own sinfulness was greater than the mercy and grace of God. He did not see how he could be forgiven and spent hours in confession. Luther was at the point of despair when he sought solace from God's word and his confessor. Johann von Staupitz, tired of Luther's lengthy confessions, reminded Luther of the Gospel of grace – that Christ died for his sin. Luther grasped this grace when he read the epistle lesson we always use for Reformation Sunday. “But now apart from the law a righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe.” It is by faith we are saved, not by works. Jesus completed the work of justification on the cross.

One day, however, Martin Luther realized that his works would never save him, that an eternity in heaven is dependent entirely on the grace of God. The scriptures that will be used in the churches celebrating Reformation Sunday all focus on God’s grace. Yet, there is no reason why we can’t remember the reformation with the normal lectionary scriptures. The passage from Jeremiah reminds us of God’s saving work for His people, gathering them together, healing them and calling them to be His own. When Martin Luther rediscovered the amazing grace of God, he realized that it would never be his own works that would earn salvation. In faith we cry out to the God who saves. In that faith we have hope and the freedom to live in His grace.

This revelation spurred Luther to reform the Church. The timing was just right: the printing press provided widespread distribution of his message. It was a time of political, social and scientific upheaval. He had the support of powerful men, so his reforms reached far past the religious realm. He sought education reforms, desiring that all children be literate. Schools were built and children were treated less like cattle and more like the future of the nation and Church. He recognized that we live in two kingdoms—temporal and spiritual, an ideology that encourages justice—so that all people might work for the glory of God even when following earthbound vocations. When we do not have to buy our way to heaven, we are given the freedom to live in God’s grace today, looking forward to the promises of God that will be fulfilled in His time and way.

Luther seemed to have found the very meaning of today's Gospel message: that when we are saved we are made free to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the world. For him freedom was not to do whatever we wanted to do, it was freedom to be as God created us to be. He never sought division, he sought change. Unfortunately, just like the religious leaders in Jesus' day, the religious leaders in Luther's day had no room for God's word in their lives. And so began the building of walls between Christians that has lasted more than five hundred years. Yet, even as Luther was willing to risk division by speaking forth God’s grace, he longed that the Church would remain whole. We continue to live in the freedom given by God through Jesus Christ so that we can reach out to our brothers and sisters in Christ, so that someday the Church will be healed and made whole once again. If not in this life, at least God’s promises will bring us together to share the feast of victory for eternity.


October 23, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 2, 2008: Micah 3:5-12; Psalm 43; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12

Micah 3:5-12 Thus saith Jehovah concerning the prophets that make my people to err; that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace; and whoso putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him: Therefore it shall be night unto you, that ye shall have no vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down upon the prophets, and the day shall be black over them. And the seers shall be put to shame, and the diviners confounded; yea, they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer of God. But as for me, I am full of power by the Spirit of Jehovah, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin. Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, and rulers of the house of Israel, that abhor justice, and pervert all equity. They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity. The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet they lean upon Jehovah, and say, Is not Jehovah in the midst of us? no evil shall come upon us. Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest.

A couple was walking through our neighborhood going door to door yesterday trying to sell us a new phone plan. Fortunately, I was running out the door when they came, so I didn’t need to listen to their pitch. I like my current situation, so I was not at all interested. But that was not the only reason I didn’t want to listen: a representative from the same company had been at my house just two weeks ago. On that occasion, the young man refused to accept “No” for an answer. He insisted that my current company could not give me the service that his could give to me. I was not interested in the company because I previously had trouble with their customer service and my current company has always given me excellent service with technical and billing issues.

Door-to-door salesmen have a job to do, but it is very frustrating to listen to them. They will say whatever they think will convince you to buy their product. Of course they need to make sales, but I will not buy a product from someone if I can’t believe what they say. A few years ago a young many came to my door selling a special vacuum cleaner. I told him that I had no money and that there was no way I would buy a vacuum cleaner. He told me that he got points toward a prize for just demonstrating the machine and asked if I would let him show me the cleaner. He insisted that there was obligation to buy and asked if I wouldn’t enjoy having someone else clean my floor for me.

I repeated that I had no money to purchase the cleaner, but allowed him in because who doesn’t want to have someone else vacuum their floor? From the moment he entered my house, he said everything he thought I would want to hear. He told me he was a Christian, although he continuing conversation did not agree with that confession. He rattled on about what a great deal he could get for me, just a few dollars a month. I repeated that I could not afford the machine, no matter how cheap it would be. He told me it didn’t matter. He changed his tactic often, constantly trying to find the ‘button’ to push to make me want to buy his product. He even asked if my husband would approve of all the dirt he found in my carpet.

He eventually called in his boss, who also tried to sell me the product. Again and again I told these guys I could not afford to buy the vacuum, standing firm on my original answer to the request. A few days later another salesperson—a woman—came to sell me the same machine. She came bearing a gift if I would just let her in to demonstrate her product. I told her I already had a two hour demonstration (the first guy would not leave until he sold me a machine) and could I have the gift that the other guy never offered me? She left in a huff insisting that she was from a different distributor. Later that day I saw her get into the exact same van that delivered the first guy to my neighborhood.

In Micah’s day the prophets spoke for profit. In other words, they said what they thought the king, or those willing to pay, wanted to hear. Of course a message of peace sounds so much better to the ears of those who do not want to experience a lack of peace. But the prophets were not speaking God’s word. Sometimes we have to face difficult times. Sometimes we have to face the consequences of our actions and those times are not pleasant or peaceful. The prophets were given their gift to help God’s people walk a straight line and live as God had ordained them to live. But the kings were never willing to pay for the truth. They wanted to hear the things that made them feel and look good, so they supported the prophets that gave them what they wanted.

Do we want the truth? Or do we prefer to have our ears tickled with words that make us feel good? Are we willing to ‘buy’ what the prophets tell us? Are we willing to face the consequences of following after warm fuzzies instead of working for God's justice in our world?


October 24, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 2, 2008: Micah 3:5-12; Psalm 43; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12

Psalm 43 Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation: Oh deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man. For thou art the God of my strength; why hast thou cast me off? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? Oh send out thy light and thy truth; let them lead me: Let them bring me unto thy holy hill, And to thy tabernacles. Then will I go unto the altar of God, Unto God my exceeding joy; And upon the harp will I praise thee, O God, my God. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him, Who is the help of my countenance, and my God.

We had a problem with a DVD that we purchased a few weeks ago. The product came with an extra disc that had downloadable material for use on the computer. Unfortunately, we did not realize there was a code in the package and we threw all the superfluous papers away. When we tried to unlock the disc, we realized we needed that code. We could send the entire product back to the company with the sales receipt and receive a replacement copy with the code. Sadly, we had also thrown the receipt away.

We sent a letter to the company, hoping that there would be some compromise. After all, I’m sure this has happened to others. Kids don’t worry about reading the instructions; they just dive right into the activity without thinking. They called today, barely a week or so after we sent the letter. They were more than willing to replace the product and we will be happy customers for a very long time.

I didn’t think we would hear from the company for awhile. It usually takes months to get responses to complaints and rebates. Why would the company contact us quickly when they have nothing to gain? Well, this particular company knows they have something to gain from good customer service: customer loyalty. All too often, however, companies take a much different point of view when it comes to dealing with customers. It has taken so long to hear from some companies that I even forgot I wrote a letter about a problem or complaint. I think some companies figure if they don’t respond right away, the disgruntled customer will give up. Since my complaints are really just insignificant inconveniences, I do give up. I don’t pursue unpaid rebates; I don’t expect any compensation when things have not gone my way. I’m just happy when I do hear from the occasional company that wants my customer loyalty and will work to keep it.

I’m not sure that we really think of ourselves as abandoned when a company does not satisfy our complaints, but we do feel like we have not received what was promised when we have been disappointed by the companies we support. The psalmist was not only disappointed, he felt abandoned by God. He sought God’s judgment perhaps because he knew that he did not deserve the injustice he faced from his enemies. The Hebrews believed that suffering was a sign of God’s rejection: if He was unhappy with the actions of His people, He removed His protective covering from their lives allowing them to face the consequences of their sin. The psalmist hoped God would see that he was not wicked and that He would deliver him from his pain. He sought God’s light and grace so that he might walk on the right path.

How often do we wonder where God has gone when we face suffering and pain? We cry out to God much like this psalmist, promising to return to His temple when we see God’s hand in our life again. But should we really wait? Has not God promised to be with us, even in our failure? We do not see the world through the eyes of the Old Covenant, the promise that comes with conditions. We see it now through the eyes of grace, through the cross of Christ and the forgiveness He won for us. Instead of waiting to see God’s light to lead us to the temple, we are called to believe the light is already there, walking forth in faith knowing that God has not abandoned us. The answers to our prayers may be tardy, according to our expectation. But God is faithful. Our hope is indeed in God and faith believes even when there is nothing to see.


October 27, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 2, 2008: Micah 3:5-12; Psalm 43; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 For ye remember, brethren, our labor and travail: working night and day, that we might not burden any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God. Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and righteously and unblameably we behaved ourselves toward you that believe: as ye know how we dealt with each one of you, as a father with his own children, exhorting you, and encouraging you, and testifying, to the end that ye should walk worthily of God, who calleth you into his own kingdom and glory. And for this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when ye received from us the word of the message, even the word of God, ye accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God, which also worketh in you that believe.

I’ve been volunteering at a preschool once a week. I have some skills, particularly dealing with technology, that can help the administrators and hopefully give them more time devote to taking care of the student needs. One of the main tasks I’ve been assigned is to update their staff handbook, necessary because that handbook lays out the policies of the school. An old and outdated book can cause problems with employee relationships.

Even though the staff handbook is important, there are sometimes more pressing tasks that I end up doing. The administrator who assigns these tasks is always apologetic. She knows I’m a volunteer. She knows I have more valuable skills, but she’s desperate to get some other things done. They are more important because they serve the immediate needs of the children. Take, for instance, my latest endeavor: to help move the school library. The old library was in another building with books for all ages. They have decided to use a room in their own building and fill it with books specifically for preschool children. The old library has been unused. The books are old, dusty and out of order. The task includes dirty, physical labor. I’m usually tired when it is over. But there’s no reason for the administrator to be apologetic. I joke that I’m her slave to do whatever she needs, but the reality is that I am there to do whatever is necessary, not just what I like to do.

I don’t mind getting my hands dirty. I know there are many who choose jobs just so that they can avoid heavy or dirty labor thinking that it is beneath them. I knew retail store managers that would never pick up a broom even if there was an immediate need and no one to deal with it. The pile of broken glass would sit there until an employee was available. Those managers never understood my personal philosophy about management: I modeled a work ethic that was willing to do everything from the menial to skilled and leadership tasks. The employees respected me when I asked them to sweep the floor because they had seen me do it, too.

The Greek point of view was that manual labor was despised and fit only for slaves and servants. An educated man would not lift a finger in the Hellenistic world in which Paul lived. They would not have a job like Paul’s. There were preachers in Paul’s day that expected the new Christians to support their ministry, to give them food and a place to stay as well as offerings that would meet their every need. Paul supported his own ministry by being a tentmaker. He did not mind getting his hands dirty if it meant he could take the Gospel further into the world to glorify God.

Paul encourages the Christians at Thessalonica to live a life worthy of God. Some might think that means avoiding dirt and sweat, keeping oneself clean and perfect before God. But Paul understood that worthiness had nothing to do with the outer appearance of a person, but with the heart willing to glorify God in all circumstances. This was a point of view that Martin Luther understood also. Brother Martin knew that God embraced those who lived their life and their vocation with thanksgiving and praise. He once wrote, “The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays — not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

Whatever it is we are called to do at this moment, let us remember to do it always with praise and thanksgiving on our lips as a witness to God’s mercy and grace to the world. We do not need to rely on the hard work of others just to keep a façade of cleanliness and perfection. We stand as a model to others who will hear God’s word and believe. The model Paul gave us was one of self-sufficiency and pride in a job well-done. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. Any vocation is sacred if you’re called to it by God. Could Paul have done more if he’d let others pay the bill? I don’t think so, because in modeling a life of hard work as well as ministry, Paul showed the world that the message of Christ as for all men, not just the religious and intellectual. Jesus’ grace is for the maid and the monk, the shoemaker and all those who believe.


October 28, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 2, 2008: Micah 3:5-12; Psalm 43; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12

Matthew 23:1-12 Then spake Jesus to the multitudes and to his disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses seat: all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe: but do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not. Yea, they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. But all their works they do to be seen of men: for they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the chief place at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the salutations in the marketplaces, and to be called of men, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your teacher, and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father on the earth: for one is your Father, even he who is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your master, even the Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted.

When I was single, I worked as a manager in retail. I left my job and moved across the country to marry my husband Bruce. I could have easily walked into any retail outlet and gotten a job in management. As a matter of fact, when I left my job, I could have asked for a transfer to a store near where Bruce and I would live. I thought about it. After all, I enjoyed the work and I did it well. I also made a good salary. It would have helped a young couple start a new life together. However, retail management requires long hours and the store where I could have worked was an hour away from the place we would live. What sort of life could we have had together if we never saw one another because I was so busy.

I didn’t want to work 70 hours a week or spend so many hours driving to and fro, so I got a job in the home fashions department of a local retail store. It was a great job. I enjoyed the customers, helping them find the right towels for their bathrooms and sheets for their beds. I had several customers who came back regularly. One lady was the owner of a bed and breakfast and we worked together to design her rooms. I never had any thought of rising through the ranks at that store. My productivity and customer satisfaction made it apparent that I would do well in the company and the management was impressed with my hard work. If I wanted to move up, I would have moved up. However, I purposely chose not to apply for management and I was not going to change my mind.

In my career I saw many people who would do anything for the job. They were willing to step on employees to get ahead. One assistant manager abused his power and freedom by stealing from his store. He would get to work early and unload boxes of merchandise out the back door. Other managers took advantage of people with no power. They put on façades for visiting district managers so that they might get ahead. They took credit for the work others accomplished and blamed them for their own mistakes. The end was all that mattered, and to them the end was power, authority and title. I wasn’t interested in playing the games necessary to get ahead, especially since it would keep me from a better calling.

The scribes and the Pharisees were more interested in their power and position than they were in the God they claimed to worship. They had authority in both religious and secular life in Matthew’s world, and they liked it. They did not want anything to destroy the good life they had accumulated. They taught what was right and good, but knew that God’s way called for humility and service. The humble servant doesn’t get anywhere in their world or in ours. Jesus reminds us that it is not for us to seek after titles and authority, but to do what He has called us to do—live humbly and serve others. In doing so, we will find the greater blessing.


October 29, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 2, 2008: Micah 3:5-12; Psalm 43; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12 or All Saints Sunday: Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

1 John 3:1-3 Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this cause the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is. And every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

I went to get the oil changed in our car recently. The greeter introduced himself and asked me a few questions, including my name. I answered “Peggy” of course, because it was a casual moment. I only use the name “Margaret” on official documents and for some business. The gentleman then typed our vehicle identification number into his little machine and came up with a list of names: Bruce, Margaret and Victoria. No Peggy. He was confused and said that my name wasn’t listed for that car. I told him that Peggy is a nickname for Margaret. He did as so many do, he asked, “How?” I don’t know how “Peggy” became a nickname for “Margaret,” but it is and I’m used to the strange looks and questions.

Names matter. A mistyped name on a legal document can make that paper null and void. My middle initial was added to my name on all our mortgage paperwork, so I had to include it in my signature on every page (if you ever bought a house, you know it is a lot of paperwork.) Confusion about name can cause problems in business and in the case of a name like mine, can even raise doubts about a person’s right to be dealing with business. I’ve dealt with it at the bank, in school, job and even at home.

Even though names matter, it is so easy to get our names changed. Just a few months ago there was a story about a girl in New Zealand who had her name changed. Her parents had named her “Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii.” Judge Murfitt made her a ward of the state so that she could legally change her name. The name her parents had given her had caused her undue social hardship. Unusual names have become a social trend, not only in New Zealand, but around the world. “Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii” might be memorable, but the child with that name could suffer from embarrassment and harassment from peers and others. In his ruling about the girl, Judge Murfitt wrote, “The court is profoundly concerned about the very poor judgment which this child's parents have shown in choosing this name. It makes a fool of the child and sets her up with a social disability and handicap, unnecessarily.” Some judges have refused to allow some of these unusual names, turning down requests for names like “Yeah Detroit”; “Stallion”; “Twisty Poi”; “Keenan Got Lucy”; “Sex Fruit”; “Fat Boy”; “Cinderella Beauty Blossom”; “Fish” and “Chips” (twins).

Names matter, but something else matters even more. A wise woman once told me, “Know your calling better than your own name. Your Mama and Daddy gave you the name Peggy, but your calling is what God has named you. It is written on your heart and is the name that matters.” We are called to be children of God.

Our scriptures for this week have talked about those who try to speak for God but have lost touch (or never had) a good understanding of what God intended for His people. They speak as if they are speaking for God, but the lead the people astray. They turn the grace of God upside down and insist that they have the authority to say what is good and right and true, while living perverting justice and burdening the people. Instead of working hard to become powerful to earn a place as the greatest among men, God calls us to be humble, like children, relying on Him for all we need.

The scripture for today is the epistle lesson for All Saints Sunday, which many will celebrate this Sunday. That’s what All Saints Day is about – remembering that we are children of God and that some day we will join those who have come before us to dwell in God’s presence forever. We celebrate our future at the table, feasting forever on God’s grace without the muck of life in our earthly flesh. We will remember the great cloud of witness that have passed before, but we will also look forward to the day when we will be with them again. We will receive the bread and wine of communion, knowing that it is only a foretaste of the feast which our loved ones already enjoy. There, in eternal life, our names don’t really matter, because God has named us His, and that’s what will guarantee our life to come.


October 30, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 2, 2008: Amos 5:18-24 or Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; Psalm 70 or Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Amos 5:18-24 Woe unto you that desire the day of Jehovah! Wherefore would ye have the day of Jehovah? It is darkness, and not light. As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him. Shall not the day of Jehovah be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it? I hate, I despise your feasts, and I will take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Yea, though ye offer me your burnt-offerings and meal-offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace-offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. But let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.

It is very dry in our area of Texas. Though we had a little bit of rain a few weeks ago, it was not enough to make a difference. We are enjoying the weather. It is sunny, with blue skies and a light breeze. The temperatures are temperate, a little chilly in the morning, but lovely the rest of the day. “Trick-or-treating” will be very pleasant tomorrow evening. Children will not need to wear heavy coats over their costumes, so we will be able to delight in the characters they have chosen to be.

This is much different than the weather we had our first autumn in Texas. Right now our drainage ditches are dry, the creek beds are empty. There are trees, shrubs and grass growing in a major creek down the road. Just four years ago, that creek was so full of water many roads were closed. Even the road twenty feet above the creek bed was threatened at one point. What is now not even a trickle was a raging torrent. It was dangerous to drive, with streets flooding and rivers overflowing. Cars were carried away as rushing water rose so quickly that it took over roads with no warning. The news was filled with images of amazing rescues, including the rescue of a truck driver whose eighteen wheeler was pushed off a highway by a foot or so of rushing water over the road. It is amazing to see how quickly our world can change. We were in a drought before the rain four years ago, but in a matter of weeks we were waterlogged.

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 ‘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 threat. Even worse, however, is when we are in a state of comfort. We forget to be thankful. We forget about those times when we were afraid. We ignore the needs of others not always because we blame them for their troubles, but more likely because I refuse to see that others are suffering. When we are healthy, we avoid those who are unhealthy. 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 afraid. 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.

Both came be overcome with an attitude of thankfulness, but how many of us go to church out of fear or in our comfort and forget to be thankful for all that God has done? When we face the dangers that cause our fear, do we thank God for those times when we were lifted out of danger? When we are surrounded by the good things in life, do we remember the source of all our blessings? In good times, things around us dry up like the creek beds in Texas. How wonderful it is when we pour out of blessings on others. Think about what happens after a hurricane strikes our land. I think we are shocked into thankfulness, so many people rush to the aid of those suffering. We send money and water. We go to the places of suffering and lend a helping hand. We show mercy and compassion, generously giving our time, ourselves and our money. But, as time passes and the needs lesson, we stop thinking about our neighbors and return to our life of comfort and peace. We go back to our Sunday morning worship and become blind in our comfort again.

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 are doing what they believe 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.


October 31, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, November 2, 2008: Amos 5:18-24 or Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; Psalm 70 or Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Psalm 70 Make haste, O God, to deliver me; Make haste to help me, O Jehovah. Let them be put to shame and confounded That seek after my soul: Let them be turned backward and brought to dishonor That delight in my hurt. Let them be turned back by reason of their shame That say, Aha, aha. Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee; And let such as love thy salvation say continually, Let God be magnified. But I am poor and needy; Make haste unto me, O God: Thou art my help and my deliverer; O Jehovah, make no tarrying.

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 great difficulties. 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.

But in David we see a man who has learned what it means to be humble, to turn to God in times of trouble and to praise Him even if the circumstances seem impossible to overcome. David is 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 harm. 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 King Saul and King David. I found, not surprisingly, 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 ended up with the blessing of 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.