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


Little Things











St. Luke











A WORD FOR TODAY, October 2022

October 3, 2022

“After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?’ Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’” John 6:1-14, WEB

There is a story about a cab driver who arrived at the address where he was to pick up his final fare of the day. He honked several times, but no one came. He thought about leaving but went to the door where he found an elderly woman with a small suitcase. Her voice was frail, and she looked like she had walked right out of a 1940’s movie. The house was prepped to be empty a long time, with sheets on the furniture and boxes of trinkets in the corner. She asked the driver to carry her bag and then he helped her to the car. She gave him an address, but told him to drive a certain direction, which was not the fastest to her destination. “That’s ok. I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to hospice.”

She didn’t have any family and the doctor told her she didn’t have very long to live. She had tears in her eyes. The cab driver turned off the meter and asked her where she wanted to go. They spent several hours seeing the city through her eyes. She showed him the neighborhood where she lived as a newlywed with her husband and a building where she had gone dancing as a girl. When they finally arrived at the address she gave him, two orderlies went out to the car to help her into the home. They were obviously expecting her and they took care of her.

He refused to take any money when she tried to pay him. She said that he needed to earn a living, but he insisted there are other passengers. He gave her a hug. She said, “You gave an old woman a little moment of joy. Thank you.” The orderlies took her inside and shut the door. The cab driver didn’t pick up any more passengers but drove aimlessly lost in thought. What if that woman had gotten another driver, one that was angry or impatient or exhausted from a long day. What if he had left when no one came to the door when he honked? He realized that those few hours were one of the most important things he had ever done in his life.

The story came with a moral. The writer talked about how we live in a society that counts the great moments as important, not the little things. The big things matter and can have a huge impact on the world in which we live. A tour of a town with an elderly, dying woman would have no impact on anyone else, but it made her last moments special. The story came with a quote, “People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” What we do not know is how God will use our little moments to do great things.

When we talk about today’s Gospel story, we always focus on the miraculous great thing that Jesus did. But think about what Andrew did. Philip thought it would be impossible to feed those crowds, that they didn’t have enough money to buy enough bread if they could even find that much. But Andrew did the little thing by pointing out the boy, and the boy did the little thing by sharing his lunch. We may never really know how we have impacted the people in our little corner of the world. Sometimes our little things actually impact us more than others, as the cab driver was deeply affected by his journey with the elderly woman. But God can use our little things, no matter what they are, to change the world.


October 4, 2022

“For the creation waits with eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of decay into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:19-21, WEB

The other day I bought my cat a catnip. If you have ever watched a cat embrace catnip, you will know how much they love it. Cats love to rub their faces on the catnip. My cat rolled on it, hugged it, threw it in the air and pounced on it. When he was tired, he fell asleep using the toy as a pillow. I watched a video the other day of a jaguar at the San Antonio Zoo acting just like my cat going crazy over catnip. It doesn’t matter the size of the cat: cats will be cats. I suppose you could say that catnip is able to sooth even the most savage beast.

The same was said about St. Francis of Assisi. He was described as being a very gentle being. Statues bearing his likeness are often found in gardens, an invitation from the homeowners to creatures that are welcome. Francis understood that we are part of one creation, a family with all God’s creatures. He believed that the incarnation affected much more than human lives, it shook the entire creation. He insisted that the animals share in the Christmas celebration and asked that grain be scattered along the roads and food spread on the walls for birds and other animals on Christmas day because the whole world was changed by Jesus’ coming. Today is his feast day and many churches will hold special services, offering a chance for the people to present their animals for blessing.

St. Francis is remembered for his simple life of poverty but did not begin life poor. As a matter of fact, he was the son of a very wealthy merchant, and it is thought that his mother was even born into nobility. As a child he was spoiled with everything his heart desired. As a young man, he lived a life of pleasure, wearing fine clothes and fully immersing himself in the social activities of the nobles. He was a soldier who sought victory and honor. He enjoyed the wealth of his father and the opportunities his position provided. However, he began to dream dreams and have visions, which led him to devoting his life to service for God, giving up everything for his faith. His was described as having “wedded Lady Poverty.” He devoted his life to serving the poor and sick, and he founded an order of monks devoted to the same rule of obedience, poverty, and chastity.

Sometimes the stories of the saints are exaggerated to give them a fuller and more Christ-centered life. It is said that his first congregation was not in a grand church or even on the street corner of a bustling town. It was a flock of various types of birds. He ran toward the birds and greeted them as if they were people and told the birds to praise God for all He has done for them. The birds stood still and listened attentively to Francis, not leaving until he blessed them and commanded them to leave.

St. Francis is remembered for trying to live the Gospel very literally, following everything Jesus said and did. He gave up his life and all his possessions to live a life of poverty and service. He even gave up his family. Once, when he heard a voice tell him to “go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down,” he took some cloth out of his father’s warehouse and sold it to buy materials to fix a falling chapel. His father demanded restitution, so Francis took off his clothes and laid them at his father’s feet, saying that from then on his only father would be God. He was given a robe and he lived from that day as a humble workman and beggar. Though it seemed at the beginning that Francis was just being lazy, the people eventually recognized the humble sincerity in his quest to live like Jesus.

He lived as Jesus commanded, even preaching the Gospel to all creation. Though the story of Francis and the birds may be myth or legend, but his is a story we can take to heart. He loved all God’s creation and knew that the whole world was changed because of Jesus, so the whole world deserves to hear the Gospel. Do we live our lives as simply following everything Jesus said and did? Do we share the Gospel with everyone, and everything, that crosses our path? St. Francis knew that the simple life he lived in obedience to Jesus, sharing the Gospel, led to the greatest blessing: a life of peace where even the savage beasts both human and animal are soothed.

Perhaps that’s why Francis wrote the following prayer: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Francis lived a life that touched the world with peace. Like the catnip that sooths cats big and small, our lives can sooth the people we touch during our life of faith, and bring a sense of peace to their lives.


October 5, 2022

Lectionary Scriptures for October 9, 2022, Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Ruth 1:1-19a; Psalm 111; 2 Timothy 2:1-13; Luke 17:11-19

“If we are faithless, he remains faithful; for he can’t deny himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13, WEB

I like to watch the show “American Pickers.” It is fun to see them discover incredible finds in old barns and haggle for their best price. Some of the sellers are very difficult, insisting on more money that the pickers are willing to pay. They sometimes walk away without the items because they just don’t think it is worth the price being asked. I recently read an article about the show that was highly disappointing. Spoiler alert: it isn’t at all what it seems to be.

Now, reality television is never what it appears to be. I like to watch baking competitions. I am always amazed how those contestants can think of their project and complete it in such a limited time. They often must create a complex showstopper that should take days to complete. These big bakes are very complex with specialized equipment necessary to make it happen. One show even requires moving parts! These teams are well prepared with the right electronics and structure pieces, as if they’d designed the piece long before the show. Yet, we are shown their surprise at the subject matter of that episode. I’m sure the kitchens are filled with all sorts of interesting kitchen gadgets, but the supply seems endless, but they must have some warning about the tasks they will be asked to do because they are always prepared no matter what they decide.

The reality is that reality TV is not quite as improvised as they make it seem. On one Halloween show, the pumpkin carver always knows which pumpkin he wants even before they supposedly give the theme. How would he or she know that would create the perfect centerpiece if they didn’t have some idea what they needed to create?

I learned in that article that the picker show is not at all improvised. As a matter of fact, there is a team that goes out and finds the places where the pickers will visit. The team even makes the deal, so when the pickers begin haggling, they already know what the deal will be. I was disappointed to learn that sometimes the team even places that incredible find in the junk of the barn where the guys will be visiting. The pickers were probably once true pickers, but on the show they are little more than actors playing a role that has been scripted long before they drove up to the barn.

The contestants of the baking shows are also characters and they are expected to act according to this personality. It might be true to their real, but it is exaggerated to make good television. Some contestants have confessed after the show that the producers asked them to fulfill an expectation. Sometimes the mean guy is really the nicest person on the set but is acting a role rather than being adversarial. We also must remember that we get just forty-four minutes in an hour of a contest that took at least a day to film. The shows are so well edited that you see only what the producers want you to see.

It is still amazing to think that these contestants can create remarkable displays in such a short period of time. There is usually a disaster or two, but the bakers can usually overcome their problems and make something that looks and tastes wonderful. They can do this not only because they are prepared, but because they have practiced. They have learned their craft through hours of work and research. They could not have even been chosen to appear on the show if they had no experience.

On one baking show they even admit that the bakers have a chance to prepare. They are sent home between episodes with an idea of the theme. The hosts have asked if the bakers prepared. “Can you finish this in time?” they ask. The bakers often respond, “I practiced a few times and came close on my last time.” The work on their showstopper is rehearsed and the materials are available. Practice makes perfect. There is still drama because things can go wrong during the taping. On a recent episode, one baker had a plan and brought a certain display which did not work. Her piece broke and her display failed. Yet, it is probable that none of the pieces would work if the bakers were not given a chance to practice and prepare. The more they practice, the better their piece is in the end.

Paul’s letters are filled with repetition. Though each letter has a certain purpose and is written to a certain situation, there are some things that remain consistent. In every letter Paul shares God’s grace with the reader. In many of the letters Paul restates the story of Christ, reminding the readers of God’s salvation through Jesus. Though it may seem redundant to tell people repeatedly to “Remember Jesus Christ,” He is the center of our faith, so it never hurts to be reminded of the work accomplished through His death and resurrection.

This is not something that comes easily to us. Though we live by faith and trust that God has done this great thing, we don’t fully understand how death brings life. Sometimes we try to explain away the things we do not understand. We take the story of God and make it sound better to our ears and to the expectations of the world around us. Yet, by taking away the grace found in the death of Christ, we deny what God has done through Him for us. This causes confusion, even bickering about the Gospel. This makes it more difficult for the world to know Jesus, to come to faith and to receive the gift of true life.

It takes practice. It takes study. It takes wisdom. It takes daily immersion into the grace of God to stand firmly in that which we trust to be true. Living by faith is not we can do by improvisation. Paul reminds us to be ready to rightly handle the word of truth so that we might share it with others.

Living the life God calls us to live is not easy. Sometimes we must make choices that seem counter to what we should be doing. The things we do might seem good, but they are not always best. It takes commitment to keep our hearts and minds on Jesus, to follow Him as He would have us go, to do what is right in His Kingdom. It takes work to know God so well that we will do what is right even if it seems like we should be doing something different. The psalmist writes, “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom. All those who do his work have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” Wisdom comes from God, but it grows with practice and preparation.

Reba McIntyre played a divorced mom of three whose life was anything but ordinary. Her oldest daughter, Cheyenne, became pregnant as a teenager, married her beau and they all lived in Reba’s house. Her husband married his pregnant girlfriend, and they moved into a house literally seconds away. The girlfriend, Barbra Jean, was a ditzy blonde who thought of herself as Reba’s best friend. Everyone in Reba’s life made decisions that led to horrible consequences and in the end they survived because Reba managed to find some amicable solution to their problems. The circumstances were never easy, but Reba had a wisdom that got them through.

The middle child was a daughter named Kyra who was a very intelligent young lady, though a little bit rebellious. She was smarter than her older sister and often took advantage of her. Since Kyra was a highly independent and mature young lady, she often found herself outside the conflict and troubles of the day. She rarely got into trouble herself, so she was the last one to get any attention. Most of the time she liked being the stealth force in the family because it meant she got away with so many things. Unfortunately, it also meant that she was last to see the fulfillment of promises.

In one episode, Kyra had the chance to go on a trip to England. Reba knew that it was important to her, that it was the least she deserved for being such a great kid. Unfortunately, the trip was going to cost a lot of money. Reba insisted that Brock, her ex-husband, had to help her to ensure that Kyra could go. Reba worked out the budget and promised that she could go. Brock managed to find some excuse to get out of his half, but Reba still did all she could to fulfill her promise. Then Cheyenne had another crisis, so the money set aside for Kyra had to go to the young married couple to fix their problem. In the end, Kyra lost again. It broke Reba’s heart to tell her that she could not go.

I know I failed to be faithful to some of my own promises to my children. We never know what will happen tomorrow. We do not know what circumstances might make our promise impossible to keep. We can’t see beyond this moment, so we are often unfaithful. We disappoint those who trust us to be true to our word. Sometimes we make the choice that seems good but is not best.

That is why there is only One who can truly be trusted with our hope. The psalmist wrote, “He always remembers his covenant.” God is faithful. He remembers His covenant promises and He has shown His people over and over again that He is trustworthy. He made his wonderful works remembered. He has shown His people the power of His works. His Word is right and true and His Law is eternal. We who believe are reminded that it is in Him that we find real wisdom. Wisdom begins when we trust in the merciful God and His word, even when we do not know where it will lead, as we see in the Old Testament story from Ruth.

Orpah is one of those obscure figures from scriptures. We know her name, but she gets lost in Ruth’s story. We talk about Naomi, her troubles and her bitterness. We talk about Ruth, her generosity and courage. We barely mention Orpah, the one who went home. I suppose we see her as the opposite of Ruth, self-centered despite her love for her mother-in-law.

And yet, what Orpah did was not wrong. As a matter of fact, she was obedient to her mother-in-law’s wishes. Naomi was a widow with no sons with no means of support. She wanted to return to her homeland where she might find generous relatives who would take her into their home. It wouldn’t be right for her to demand they also take in her daughters-in-law. The women were Moabites and their life would be much better among their own people. Naomi was being kind and generous by telling them to go home, even if she did it from a place of grief and bitterness. Orpah wept in grief about leaving, but she did so out of respect for the woman she’d grown to love.

We have another story of opposites in the Gospel lesson. Nine lepers left Jesus to go to the Temple while one stayed with Him. The nine did what was right according to Jesus’ word and the Law. We are quick to dismiss the nine because they didn’t go back and say “Thank you” to Jesus, but they did what they were supposed to do.

Jesus commanded them to go to the priests and they all went in faith. I wonder what they were thinking as they left Jesus. It was proper to show yourself to the priest when you were cured of a disease, but they had not yet been cured; it was only as they were leaving that the leprosy left them. Nine of the lepers continued to the priests, doing exactly as expected according to their religion and society, then they disappear from the story. They were thankful, I am sure. The miracle saved their lives. They could return home, work and live as a normal person again. It probably saved the lives of their families who suffered along with their loved one who had been outcast. Their world was returned to them, and their thankfulness was displayed in a return to the normal course of life. This is not a bad thing.

The decisions Reba made on the show may have been right, but that didn’t make them any more acceptable to the middle daughter who was always left out. It was not bad that she helped the child who needed her, but it may have been better for Reba to choose the other way. It was just a scripted situation comedy, but we can learn by Reba’s mistakes. We can also learn from the failures of the Bible characters in our lessons this week. Orpah and the nine lepers did what was right, even obedient. However, there was a better way as we see in the stories of Ruth and the tenth leper.

Ruth followed Naomi, who was probably not very good company. Her bitterness made caring for her difficult, but Ruth willingly went into the fields to glean so that they would survive. Ruth’s love and generosity made a difference to Naomi, and in the end Ruth also found love, a future, and offspring. Her great grandson was King David and through his seed Jesus Christ was born. It might have been frightening to go with Naomi, but God had plans for Ruth’s life. Orpah probably had a wonderful life back home in Moab, but Ruth was greatly blessed when she went the other way. She experienced the blessing of relationships, not only with Naomi and her family, but with a husband, children, and the God of Israel.

Jesus told the lepers to go to the priests. The tenth leper was a Samaritan, but he went with them in hopeful expectation for healing. They all experienced the miracle. The nine continued in joy, but the Samaritan returned to the One who made him clean. The ten lepers were all healed physically, but only one sought out the true healing. When He praised God, Jesus gave him far more. He was made whole physically and spiritually. Jesus is concerned for both our physical and our spiritual wellbeing. Jesus changes people from the inside out, granting them forgiveness and filling them with the love of God, bringing them back into a relationship with the God who is faithful. It is that relationship that makes them whole.

Do we respond to God’s grace with simple obedience and then go on to our normal lives or are we changed forever by what God has done? That was the difference between Ruth and Orpah, the nine lepers and the Samaritan. Those who trusted in God were changed; they were made new. When they turned to God, they began a life of faith. What is faith? I often define faith as trust in God, but is that definition deep enough? What does it mean to trust God?

The psalmist confesses his faith in the presence of an assembly, and he does so by recounting the wonderful things God has done. He praises God by referencing the works of His hands. “Yahweh’s works are great, pondered by all those who delight in them. His work is honor and majesty. His righteousness endures forever. He has caused his wonderful works to be remembered. Yahweh is gracious and merciful.” The psalmist knows that we need to hear the story repeatedly so that we can see God’s hand even when it is not obvious. Unfortunately, God’s people often forget the great and marvelous things He has done, and in Jesus’ day they did not recognize that He was the final and most incredible act of God’s mercy. The tenth leper saw the truth; the others did not recognize the presence of God even though they did what was expected. They had faith in their obedience rather than in the One who could really make them whole.

Timothy was a believer for as long as anyone could remember, having been raised by Eunice his mother and Lois his grandmother. They taught him, planted the seeds of faith, and prepared him to follow the vocation to which God had called him. Paul continued to teach him everything he would need to know, mentoring him into a pastor that would serve God and the people of Ephesus. Timothy heard the story of Jesus repeatedly so that he would remember and stay true to the truth.

Unfortunately, the people of Ephesus were deceived by the Gnostic heresy, and they had no respect for Timothy. There were those in the congregation who even held Paul in contempt. Since Timothy was so young, they thought it would be easy to turn him into the kind of preacher they wanted him to be, teaching the heresy that tickled their ears. Paul wrote to encourage him to stand firm in the Gospel, to teach the Word as he’d heard it from Paul, even if it was hard to make the stand. He had a very specific job to do: God called him to teach the truth, not to conform to the desires of the world.

Paul encouraged Timothy to believe the word he spoke and to continue to follow it. Paul had to justify himself repeatedly. He had been a Pharisee, but he was changed by Jesus and was constantly persecuted for his work as an Apostle. He was in prison when he wrote his letter to Timothy, and it would have been natural for his adversaries to use his suffering as proof that he was not a reliable minister for God or for Jesus. Paul encourages Timothy by reminding him that suffering does not mean God’s Word is untrue. Though Paul suffers, God’s salvation is real. So, Paul charges Timothy to take that message to the people, the message that Christ is faithful even when we are faithless.

Ruth took the hard road, and she was blessed. Timothy took the hard road, and he was blessed. Who took the hard road in today’s Gospel lesson? Was it the nine who went to the Temple to show themselves to the priests even before they were healed, or was it the one who turned around and fell at Jesus’ feet in worship when the leprosy was gone?

It might seem like the Samaritan took the easy road. He didn’t walk all the way to the temple or face those who would question them about the healing. He didn’t provide thankofferings. Were the nine unfaithful because they didn’t worship Jesus? They did exactly what He told them to do. When He said “Go” they went even before they were healed. They trusted that Jesus’ word that they would be healed. They did what was required of them according to their law. We should be heralding their faithfulness.

We don’t, however, because we know that they did not need to seek forgiveness or absolution from the temple priests; they could find everything they needed in Jesus Christ. The one who turned back took the hard path, because it was the path that went against the expectations of the world in which he lived. He died to self and turned to God. And in doing so, he was blessed beyond measure. The other nine were healed, but he was made well.

Here’s the rest of the story: like Ruth, the one leper who turned to Jesus was a foreigner. Jesus was passing along the borders of Samaria and Galilee. There is always more diversity in along the borders. The Galileans were from Judah; the Samaritans were from the Northern tribes that had been Israel. The differences between the people were largely political; there were some religious differences, but in many ways the ordinary people related to one another on a human level. Yet, among those who were strictly observant of the Law, the Samaritans were unclean because they had a history of syncretism (accepting and trying to meld together opposing and conflicting belief systems), allowing the worship of other gods in their communities. These differences did not matter much to the lepers. They were all outcast, all unclean. They all stood at a distance from Jesus, respecting his position not wanting to make him unclean. They all sought mercy.

The easiest relationship in our lives should be with God, but it is the hardest because we have to turn away from everything we know to follow Him into the unknown. Ruth did it. Timothy did, too. The leper from Samaria saw the work of God in Jesus’ words and he humbled himself before the One who does great things. He revered the One who can heal, who changes lives. He found life and forgiveness and wisdom at the feet of Jesus.

We are healed for more than just a return to our old way of life. We are saved to be a blessing to others. Ruth followed Naomi and a God she did not know, and she became the mother of kings and the King. We don’t know what happened to the Samaritan leper after he left Jesus, but as soon as he knew he was healed, he worshipped. I’m certain that he returned home praising God and telling others about Jesus.

Paul told Timothy to pass on the knowledge that he had been given. It isn’t enough to hear the Gospel and go on to live our lives as if nothing has changed. God’s grace gives us new life, life that is meant to be shared. The examples Paul gives are interesting because again, it is not bad to live life or do your job as expected. A good soldier is obedient to the commands of his leader. A good athlete focuses on his training. A good farmer reaps a harvest that will take care of his family. This is not bad. A person of faith, however, takes it to the next step. A person of faith glorifies God in their daily work. We are made new, transformed by God’s grace. We are no longer soldiering, running, or reaping for ourselves. We are called to do all this for God. We are saved and healed through Jesus Christ who died for our sake.

We should go on to live our lives, to care for our families, to do our work. We should go to the Temple and show ourselves to the priests so that they can declare to our communities that God has done good things for us. We should go home and love our families. We should rejoice in the new life we have been given. However, faith takes it further. Faith heals. Faith trusts that it was God who did it for us; faith praises God for what He did. We are blessed to be a blessing for others. Orpah and the nine walked away from God with the promise of a good life. Ruth and the one received far more. They received the promise of eternity, the promise of a relationship with the faithful One who makes us whole.


October 6, 2022

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place for all generations. Before the mountains were born, before you had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, you are God. You turn man to destruction, saying, ‘Return, you children of men.’ For a thousand years in your sight are just like yesterday when it is past, like a watch in the night. You sweep them away as they sleep. In the morning they sprout like new grass. In the morning it sprouts and springs up. By evening, it is withered and dry. For we are consumed in your anger. We are troubled in your wrath. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days have passed away in your wrath. We bring our years to an end as a sigh. The days of our years are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty years; yet their pride is but labor and sorrow, for it passes quickly, and we fly away. Who knows the power of your anger, your wrath according to the fear that is due to you? So teach us to count our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Relent, Yahweh! How long? Have compassion on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your loving kindness, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work appear to your servants, your glory to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us. Establish the work of our hands for us. Yes, establish the work of our hands. Psalm 90

I once attended a lecture by famed photojournalist Harry Benson. He shared a slide show of his photos which showed an amazing career. He was invited into the inner sanctums of some of the most private and famous people. He photographed every president since Eisenhower and was with them at some of the most important moments of their lives. He was just a few feet away from Robert Kennedy the night he was killed. He has photographed the powerful and famous in the intimate settings of their homes as well as at official functions.

Vanity Fair magazine was on the verge of closing when the editor convinced the owner to try one more month using one of Mr. Benson’s photos of Ronald and Nancy Reagan as the cover. The editor thought it would make the issue a best seller. It did and the magazine was saved. Mr. Benson was invited to photograph personal moments like Caroline Kennedy’s wedding and Elizabeth Taylor’s recovery after brain surgery. After a lifetime of success in the business, it is no wonder that photojournalists and photographers would want to know his secrets.

After the speech, Mr. Benson took questions from the audience. He was asked about his favorite camera, whether he’d gone digital, who was his favorite subject? There were questions very specific to some of the photographs, such as the most frightening experiences of his career or if the subject knew what he was doing.

Several would-be photographers asked for advice. The first young man asked, “What advice would you give to someone who wants a successful career?” His answer was, “Buy a guitar.” Another student asked if it was necessary to have a college education to be successful. I’m not sure the college officials appreciated his answer which was, “No.” He did not even bother to continue his answer with the expected qualifier, “But it can never hurt to have a degree.”

Several students asked related questions about how to follow in Mr. Benson’s footsteps. They saw his career as worthy to emulate and wanted a piece of his action. He was honest with them, not because he saw their ambition as a threat to his own career, but because he knew the reality. His joke, “Buy a guitar” was based on the truth that things are different today than they were sixty years ago. Today, with the advent of digital cameras and the development of high-quality images through even the cheapest cameras (and phones), anyone can take a good photo. Why pay a photojournalist when a hundred people in a crowd have taken the same photo with their cell phone?

The best advice he gave the crowd was “Take photos of what you see.” Then the next best was, “Get paid for your photos.” I suppose that the second advice would have been far more helpful if he had given some ways to get paid for the photos. As a photographer, and a pretty good one if you ask me, I’ve often wondered whether I could make a career out of it. Yet, I see the writing on the wall, just like Mr. Benson. He was lucky because he got his start long before technology has made it possible for everyone to take, or make, a great picture. He said, “Unfortunately, there is no longer a magazine like ‘Life.’” He seemed melancholy about the idea that an age has passed. He was probably right.

Despite the authority of Harry Benson, I’m sure most of those photography students in the audience still had stars in their eyes. I could hear them thinking, “If he did it, why can’t I?” They wouldn’t go buy the guitar (not that a guitar can get you very far in this world, either) and I imagine they still tried to pursue a career that might not exist in a few years. I doubt man heeded the advice of the professional, and probably ended up working in a photo studio taking pictures of high school seniors.

Harry Benson had the credentials to offer the right advice to those students seeking his wisdom. He told them to carry their camera everywhere and to photograph everything. He might be right that there is no future in the business because it has become so easy for everyone to take a picture, but it couldn’t hurt to do the thing you love. Perhaps it would pay off in the end, especially if they worked at becoming the best photographer they could be. Mr. Benson was a

The school that invited Harry Benson to speak thought that he was a trustworthy speaker to help guide their students onto good career paths, but his words meant nothing to many of the students. Nothing he said would change the path they planned to take, even if it meant wasting a life that could be used to make a difference in the world. The Bible has been given to us to help guide our lives by a God is trustworthy. Do we put His word to practice and live our lives according to it? His Word is true, and He is faithful, but do we live as if we believe this? Do we live lives that have been changed by His Word or do we continue to follow the ways we think are best even if they will not make a difference in this world? In today’s Psalm, Moses reminds us that God is worthy of our praise by sharing the great things He has done. He asks God to help us to number our days, to help us use our lives for His glory. Then, as we follow God’s Word, doing as He has instructed us in His authoritative Book, we will share His grace with our neighbors, helping them to believe.


October 7, 2022

“Come, and hear, all you who fear God. I will declare what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth. He was extolled with my tongue. If I cherished sin in my heart, the Lord wouldn’t have listened. But most certainly, God has listened. He has heard the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer, nor his loving kindness from me.” Psalm 66:16-20, WEB

We all fall short. We are sinners in need of a Savior. There is no reason why God should ever listen to what we have to say or even consider what we ask of Him. Yet, He does.

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He included the line, “Thy will be done.” This can be very troublesome for us because we don’t always know or understand what God’s will is in our lives. Sometimes we think we know, and we go out into the world with a passion to do that work, but when we don’t succeed, we have doubts and second guess our understanding. “If this is what God wants from me, why isn’t it happening?”

When I began writing this devotional, I had high hopes that it would go viral and that after a time, perhaps months or possibly a few years, I’d have thousands of readers. I even thought I might have more opportunities to teach and speak before groups. More than two decades later, I still have only a few hundred and I am rarely asked to make presentations. I must confess that I’ve wondered more than once over the years if this is really what God intends for me to do. I wonder what I am doing wrong. I wonder if this was really God’s will for me.

Timothy Keller once wrote, “If God is sovereign, you can be called to a vocation, but not called to be successful in that vocation.” Commenters wondered what he meant by this. We were so certain that God intends only for us to be successful, that some assumed Keller meant that we should question what we are doing wrong. Others thought that we should question what it means to be successful.

The world says we succeed when we make huge things happen. We are successful when we are better than others. We are successful when we draw many people to us. We are successful when we are rich and famous or have had a noticeable impact on our world. The world makes me doubt my vocation as the writer of this devotional because I haven’t reach thousands of people or made a noticeable impact on the world. The world even makes me doubt whether God is listening to my prayers.

The psalmist said, “If I cherished sin in my heart, the Lord wouldn’t have listened.” Perhaps it doesn’t seem like sin to want to be read by thousands and impact the world. However, those thoughts are worldly thoughts and that is not my vocation; that’s what makes it sinful. By cherishing the possibility of success in my heart, I am ignoring God’s will in my life. It is possible that I do not even know what God intends to accomplish with this devotional, and that He is doing something spectacular outside my knowledge and understanding.

My vocation is to share God’s Word, to be a vehicle for God’s grace that will have an impact in the hearts of those who do read. I’ve learned, although I don’t always heed the lesson, that God has the reach and makes the impact. Whether or not I am successful according to the expectations of the world, God has promised to do His work through my vocation. That may never be what I expect. It may even seem like I am failing, but God never fails. Jesus calls us to pray “Thy will be done,” and then sends us into the world to be the vehicles for His will. We will fail; we may never truly understand what He intends. As long as we do not cherish our own thoughts in our hearts, we can know that God will make His will happen in our lives. We doubt because we are cherishing the wrong things; we are truly successful when we cherish God’s Word no matter what seems to be happening in our lives.


October 10, 2022

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow let’s go into this city, and spend a year there, trade, and make a profit.’ Whereas you don’t know what your life will be like tomorrow. For what is your life? For you are a vapor that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away.” James 4:13-14, WEB

My husband and I had to go to the local Air Force base to pick up new identification cards. We don’t go to the base very often, so we decided to take some time to visit the base exchange and the commissary. We found a few things to buy in both places and it made me wonder if I should go more often, especially to the commissary. It is so convenient to just run to the grocery store down the street, and many of the items are more expensive on base, so it doesn’t save money to go so far out of the way.

I took his hand as we were walking toward the exchange and said, “Look, we’ve become one of those old, retired couples!” We often noticed them when we went way back when, it was so sweet to see them walking hand in hand together as they did the normal business of life. I suppose it was something to look forward to after Bruce finished his career. Of course, we don’t feel like an old, retired couple; we are much too young! It is hard to say that when I am celebrating the last birthday I’m going to acknowledge. I am joking, of course, but I am turning fifty-nine today (fifty-nine is the new thirty-nine, I think.)

My husband and I listen to reruns of Billboard’s Top Forty from the 1980’s with Casey Kasem on Sunday mornings. It is so interesting to listen to the stories he told forty+ years ago. One episode noted the “new” technology of compact discs. Many of the artists one week were just teenagers, and it is hard to think of them as being my peers, but after forty years they are nearly the same age as me. I was a young adult when I first heard those songs fourtish years ago. I recently saw a photo of an actress who was known for being young and sexy posted online and the comments were filled with shock because it was so obvious that she had grown older. I thought she looked terrific, after all, she was in her seventies. I have friends in their seventies and the laugh when I talk about being old. I can’t help noticing, however, that as I turn fifty-nine my body has changed, and the warranty has run out. Some things just don’t work the way they used to.

The attitude of many as they reach middle age is to become depressed, thinking that the best years are behind them. The stereotypical response to aging is the mid-life crisis as people do things to prove their youthfulness and longevity. Old guys buy sports cars and women get cosmetic surgery. It is no wonder that we go through these feelings: in the past few years too many of my high school classmates have died. How do we look forward to life when death seems to be on our doorstep? I am reminded daily of my age in my mailbox by invitations from organizations for older people and encouragement to buy insurance. I have shockingly received advertisements for funeral homes and old age communities! I am reminded when my joints creak and my muscles ache. I am reminded when I can’t dance the way I did to that music when I heard it forty years ago. We probably did look like that old, retired couple to the youthful new recruits on base the other day.

It might be a little depressing to reach this milestone, and I do joke about ignoring the numbers from now on, but there are reasons to celebrate. I may be getting more junk mail from places like home care and funeral homes, but I also get coupons from businesses I frequent. I realize daily that though much of my life has passed, I’ve had a great life. I’ve seen the world and experienced too many wonderful things to list. I’ve enjoyed thirty-four years of marriage with the most wonderful guy. I had the blessing of raising two incredible children who are now making the world a better place. And now that they are grown and independent, I have the freedom to pursue my own opportunities to change the world. I have the freedom to write and to paint. I have the time to do things I love to do. I have the time to devote to prayer and Bible study. It is not so bad to become older.

We might struggle with the creaky joints and the aching muscles, but the best way to deal with our birthdays is with joy and excitement, to celebrate in some way every day, to wake up every morning with a smile on our faces. It is good for us to remember that God has done great things for us and that He knows the plans He has for my life, which is not over but only just beginning every morning. God will not take me home until the work He has planned for me is done, but it doesn’t matter if today is my last day or if I live a few more decades. I may be older with all the troubles that go with age, but I’m blessed and that’s reason to praise God no matter my circumstances. He loves me and all His creation; it can be seen in all the good works He has done in the world. His love can be seen in His promises; He is ageless and never changes. Whether we live another day or many decades, we can rest in the faithfulness of God and rejoice in God’s loving embrace.


October 11, 2022

“But the end of all things is near. Therefore be of sound mind, self-controlled, and sober in prayer. And above all things be earnest in your love among yourselves, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, employ it in serving one another, as good managers of the grace of God in its various forms. If anyone speaks, let it be as it were the very words of God. If anyone serves, let it be as of the strength which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:7-11, WEB

Luke reports the story of the early church in the book of Acts. This was the period after the Ascension of Jesus when the apostles and other disciples continued His work and began to take the Gospel into the world. We first hear about Philip the Deacon, whose life we remember today, in Acts 6. He was chosen to be one of the seven who would serve in administrative roles while the Apostles devoted their time to teaching the Word. After the stoning of his fellow deacon Stephen in Acts 7, the church was scattered.

A natural response for persecution is often to run away and hide. Whether we are embarrassed or afraid, we do not want to deal with someone who seems to hate us. However, we must be careful that we realize that negative experiences are not necessarily persecution. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.” If only more people today would say the same thing. To persecute means “to harass in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict; specifically: to cause to suffer because of belief.” It seems we are living in a time when everyone feels persecuted, even though most of that is little more than disagreement.

The Church might have been scattered, but they did not stop doing the work of Jesus. Philip ended up in Samaria where he shared the Gospel. The crowds listened to him, and they saw the signs which he did. He cast out demons and healed. There was joy in Samaria. He had a successful ministry. The people were experiencing the joy of the Lord, watching Philip do incredible things; God blessed his ministry with acts of power and the people believed.

This is terrific. I’m sure most pastors and evangelists out there would give their lives for a congregation willing to listen to everything they have to say and to believe with such joy. They would be very happy to have such a successful ministry. But we read on in Philip’s story that an angel whispered in his ear, “Go now.” “Now?” we would ask. “But I’m just beginning here. There is too much work left to do. There are too many people left to save!” We might even reject the voice, claiming that it is the devil trying to confuse us and make us lose our place in God’s work.

That’s not the way Philip responded. Luke tells in Acts 8 us that Philip, “arose and went.” He was so confident in the word of God that he willingly left a successful ministry to go into the unknown. It was not only an uncertain command, but it was dangerous. The road from Jerusalem to Gaza was infested with killers and thieves. It was not a place where one would wander alone. When Philip was traveling down this road, he heard the voice again, which told him to go near the chariot. Again, we would think, “Are you kidding me?” The Ethiopian eunuch was certainly not alone. He was probably accompanied by a large entourage, including soldiers, servants, and guests. He was representing the queen of Ethiopia, so he had the resources of the kingdom at his disposal.

We would see those soldiers and doubt the command. I surely would not run toward the Ethiopian procession; I would probably run the other way. Philip, however, ran to the chariot despite the risk. He found the eunuch reading the book of Isaiah. He was probably taking the scroll back to Ethiopia where there was a small but faithful community of Jews from the days of Solomon. It is not only amazing that this man had a scroll, they were rare and expensive, but he also knew the language. This was obviously where Philip was meant to be. God had a message for that Eunuch to take to home. While we might have had doubts that the voice was really from God, we know now that Philip had work to do. The Ethiopian community needed to hear the Gospel message, too.

Philip asked, “Do you know what it means?” The Ethiopian admitted that it didn’t make sense. Philip joined him in the chariot and told him the story of Jesus. The eunuch was so transformed by the story that he asked to be baptized, so they stopped the procession at some water by the side of the road and Philip welcomed him into the Church. Philip immediately disappeared as the Holy Spirit whisked him off to another mission and the eunuch went on his way rejoicing.

The story of Philip shows us how to respond to God’s call, no matter what it means to our ministry. He was a successful evangelist. He was a leader in the early Church. He was also intimately connected to the Lord God; he heard the voice of Jesus calling him into the unknown. He trusted that God was in control.

The Apostles never wavered even as they were being stoned, beheaded, crucified or dragged through the streets, preaching the Gospel with their last breath. Philip was not concerned about what might happen; he went on preaching the Good News of Christ to the world and many were saved. What would have happened if he and the others remained silent? Where would we be today? Where will the future generations be if we do not preach the Gospel despite our own persecution? We can walk in faith knowing the God is with us even during the most horrifying experiences. Like Phillip and the Apostles, we can use every opportunity to live out our faith in a way that glorifies God.

We may perceive that we are being persecuted and scatter under fear or uncertainty, there is even a possibility that our perception is a justified response to what is happening in our own little corner of the world. There really is true persecution of faith in the world today. Should we run and hide because someone has threatened our faith? Or should we keep walking in faith, living the Gospel of Christ and sharing His love with the world?

It is tempting to just keep quiet. Though we do not endure the same risks for our faith, we have heard stories in our own day of people who have lost their jobs, their families, and even their lives for speaking about Christ. I can’t imagine many of us will leave homes and families for the sake of the Gospel. Perhaps we aren’t called to run off to dangerous roads to share the Gospel with complete strangers, but would you go if you were sure that’s what God was asking of you? The Church was scattered because of the danger, but they didn’t let their uncertain circumstances keep them from telling the story. They went on sharing the Gospel of Christ no matter what, despite the rejection and persecution they faced.

We know that the scriptures only give us a fraction of the stories about Jesus and the disciples. We see a few brief moments in their lives and ministry. John tells us that the whole world couldn’t hold all the books necessary to record everything He did. The book of Acts gives us some extraordinary stories about the things that the disciples did after Jesus was gone. Yet, in the middle of it, we have this brief encounter with Philip. We don’t know anything about the healings in Samaria or even what words he might have said. We just know that Philip went on to do the work Christ called him to do: simple, honest, and joyful.

Our lives do not seem extraordinary like those of Peter and Paul, James, and John. Most of us don’t have a story to tell like Mary Magdalene of any of the others who were healed by Jesus and the disciples. We don’t experience the persecution and rejection that they did, and we haven’t been scattered to the four corners of the known world. But Philip’s story shows us that even if we are living our faith in Christ, no matter how simple it seems, our lives are extraordinary because we are doing what God has called us to do. We may not cast out demons or heal the infirm, but when we share the Word of God with our neighbors, we bring them joy and change the world. Let us always be obedient to God with the gifts, words, and strength He has given to us.


October 12, 2022

Lectionary Scriptures for October 16, 2022, Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Genesis 32:22-30; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

“Yahweh will keep your going out and your coming in, from this time forward, and forever more.” Psalm 121, WEB

Have you ever noticed that the grocers put the milk at the very back of the store? Grocery stores are specially designed this way. I don’t know about you, but I try to go to the grocery store and get as much as I might need for a few days or a week, but there’s always something I need in between. Milk is one of those items that often requires a quick trip to the store. I always complained that the milk should be closer to the entrance so that we don’t need to walk through the whole store to get that one item. But that’s the point. The grocer wants you to walk by thousands of other items so that you might pick up a few extra items along the way. Milk does not have a large profit margin, but the products you pass along the way do.

The next time you run into the store for the gallon of milk, take notice to how many endcap specials you pass. See how there is a refrigerator unit with easy bake cookie dough and a rack with donuts close by. These displays are purposely placed in the hopes that you will be thinking about that milk you plan to purchase and how good it would taste with some hot cookies or fresh donuts. On the way back to the checkout stand you’ll pass other items that you just can’t pass up. You will see items that appear to be on sale or brand-new offerings from your favorite companies. These displays are meant to manipulate you into buying more than you want or need. I laugh when I see someone holding a half dozen items in their arms as they walk from the milk display. “I wasn’t going to buy much. That’s why I didn’t get a cart.” We’ve all been there, I’m sure.

This technique is used in many other places where we are trying to “sell” something, even in the Church. Churches plan programs with the hope of getting people through the doors, offering activities and experiences that will draw new people into their pews. We forget that God is the one who draws people in, and He does so with His Word. It is great when people

We don’t have to be manipulative. We don’t have to try to sell people something they do not need or want. We are called to simply share the love of God with those whom God has placed in our path. Living faith is not something that requires a special degree or a ministerial vocation. Living faith is taking God with us into our daily lives, continuing to worship and praise God in our homes, jobs and schools. We tend to put our faith into a box when we walk into the world, but in doing so we also hide God from a world that desperately needs His grace. God has entrusted us with a very special gift, and He daily gives us the opportunity to share it. All too often we ignore the opportunities to evangelize because we are afraid, but we have nothing to fear. God is with us in our daily lives.

Yet all too often we use manipulation to get our way, not trusting in God but trusting in our own ability to make things happen.

We aren’t very good at waiting for God to make things right, even when He has promised to do so. We see opportunities to get things done, so we do them, forgetting that God has a plan. Then we find that we are caught up in a situation that is not what God intends and we struggle. The best example of this is Abraham and Sarah who did not wait for God to fulfill His promise of children, and we are still struggling with the animosity between Isaac and Ishmael today in the Middle East and around the world.

Jacob was born under a promise, but human impatience and uncertainty got in the way of God’s fulfillment of that promise. Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebecca, a twin whose brother was named Esau. They wrestled with each other even in the womb. Esau was born first; Jacob followed closely, grasping the heel of his brother’s foot. The boys were completely different. Jacob was a handsome and quiet young man, the opposite of his rugged brother who hunted the wild game their father loved. Esau was favored by Isaac, Jacob by Rebecca. God had promised Rebecca that Jacob would inherit the promises, and they took matters into their own hands to ensure that the promise would be fulfilled.

Jacob is an interesting but not very likeable character. From the beginning of his life, he wrestled with his brother and with the promises of God. He struggled with his brother Esau over the blessing of Isaac and his inheritance. He struggled with Laban over the woman he loved. He struggled with his wives, their maids, and the children they gave him. Jacob wrestled with his fears, his doubts, and his place in the story of God’s people. The promises for Jacob were clear from the beginning, but he did not trust God. The voices that guided him did not trust that God is faithful. He lied and cheated and inflicted revenge on those who lied to and cheated him. He manipulated things to his benefit and ran away when the going got tough. He played favorites and served himself.

Jacob is not totally to blame. Though he took the birthright from Esau, Esau gave it away for a bowl of soup. He worked seven long years for the right to marry Rachel and Laban tricked him into taking Leah. Laban tried to take advantage of Jacob, cheating him out his rightful pay. He took matters into his own hands. Rebecca helped him take control of the blessing from his father. It seemed to her that it was necessary to do so that God’s promises could be fulfilled. In every situation, the actions were justified by the thought that they helped bring about God’s purpose for Jacob. However, every time we take matters into our own hands, we show our lack of trust in God. We think that God needs our help to be faithful.

During the years that he was gone, Jacob had built a dynasty for himself. He had wives, servants, children, and great wealth. Then one day, he heard the voice of God who told him to go home. He was afraid, but he obeyed. He sent a message to Esau announcing his return and Esau answered by coming to meet him with an army of hundreds. Still afraid and doubting God’s promises, Jacob divided his people and possessions into two groups, hoping that if Esau destroyed one group the other group will survive.

Then he prayed. He prayed a prayer in which he recognized his unworthiness, confessed his doubt, and reminded God of His promises. On the night before he faced his brother, he wrestled with his own doubts. To be reconciled to his brother, Jacob first needed to overcome all that had kept him from living as God had intended. He was a sinful man who had to face his greatest sin: his lack of trust in God. Everything he did against men, he did against God, because it was his way of ensuring that God’s promises would be fulfilled. Before he faced his past and began his future, he had to face his God.

This is an odd story because in many ways it does not fit in with our understanding of God. We must ask too many questions. Who is this “man” wrestling with Jacob? If it is God, why can’t he prevail against a mere man? Why does He have to hurt Jacob to win? Why doesn’t He know Jacob’s name? Why does He have to leave by dawn?

Do we need the answers to all these questions? God is mysterious. He is mysterious because He is God. We are merely human, sinners unable to know and fully understand His purpose and His plan for our lives. We hold on to our own sovereignty and justify our lack of trust by claiming that we are aiding God’s plan. The mystery gives us room to be independent, to trust or not trust God’s faithfulness.

Jacob was about to meet with Esau, his brother with whom he had been fighting for his entire life. God’s promises were wrapped up in that relationship and instead of trusting God to be faithful, Jacob had taken control. It was necessary for Jacob to wrestle with God, to understand that God is in control of his life and his destiny. He had to give himself to God, to be humbled in His presence, to recognize his own mortality before he met with his brother. He had to wrestle with himself to fully trust God.

Journeys are not easy. The temporal dangers are obvious: weather, criminals, and health issues cause difficulty along the path. I had a friend who did the Camino de Santiago a few years ago and she experienced blisters and exhaustion and other maladies along the way. Some pilgrims choose to make the journey even more difficult by adding spiritual practices: they fast or some even take parts of the journey on their knees. The journey serves as a way of humbling themselves and becoming worthy to stand in the presence of the divine. Other people go on pilgrimages out of a sense of duty or requirement of their religion.

The Jews made pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem. They went to the temple to make sacrifices, as well as to worship and honor God at the special feasts and festivals during the year. It was a difficult journey. The roads were harsh and dangerous. No one knew if they would make it home alive, particularly through the hills that surrounded the city. Robbers and murderers hid in the rocky crevices of those hills waiting for travelers. The conditions were unwelcoming to the pilgrims, but they took these journeys with the assurance of God’s presence. The Jews did not make a pilgrimage to a sacred place to meet God, they knew that they only way they could arrive to Jerusalem was if God walked with them.

We take all sorts of journeys in our life. Some are short, like trips to the mall or the grocery store. Some are more important like the journey through our school years or a trip to the altar. Our journeys can be physical like a trip to Grandmother’s house, or they can be emotional as we make decisions that will transform our lives. We also take spiritual journeys.

The psalmist knew what it was like to take a hard journey. He wrote as a pilgrim who has gone to the Temple in Jerusalem to do his duty as a man of faith. The song of praise looks toward the journey home, a blessing for the faithful people of God as they left the house of the Lord to face the dangers of the world enriched, inspired, and prepared after their time in Jerusalem. We don’t know what we will face during our journeys. The Jewish pilgrims faced murderers and thieves in the mountains outside the city. They faced the heat of the desert and the loneliness of the road. They faced the reality of returning to the world after experiencing the divine.

Our scriptures this week are about the relationship with have with God. In each of the lessons we see some aspect of our communication with the God of our salvation. We wrestle with God. We seek God’s blessing as we go out into the world to face the dangers that threaten our physical, emotional and spiritual lives. We stand firm in the scriptures, reading God’s Word regularly to keep it fresh on our minds and in our hearts. We come before God repeatedly seeking His mercy and grace. All these ways of communicating are journeys in of themselves as we learn to dwell in the presence of God. He is the destination of our life of faith, but He is also there with us.

The psalm for today was apparently used at the end of worship during those feasts and festivals that brought pilgrims into the Temple. The community of faith sought the blessing of God as they were beginning their trip back to their homes. “Who will save us? God will save us.” The song finishes with a benediction, an invocation of God’s blessings over the community of faith as they went their separate ways. “Yahweh will keep your going out and your coming in, from this time forward, and forever more.” God does not sleep. He takes care of His people. We found this passage written in stone on a doorway in Germany as a reminder to all those who enter and leave the home that God is with them.

The ideal is to trust in God’s will and His timing, but we often tend to be more like the woman in today’s Gospel lesson. She reminds me of a pesky five-year-old. Those of us with children remember that age. Children can be very persistent. They can ask, plead, haggle, deal, cry, and beg in a matter of minutes. It takes the most unfaltering mother to keep saying “No” repeatedly. Sometimes our response is just like that of the judge, but there were times when I weighed and measured the choices. We wonder if it better to teach the lesson that we cannot have everything we want, or to use it as an opportunity of grace.

The judge had no fear of God or concern for men. He had ruled against the woman time and time again. Her opponent was probably a powerful man. The woman could do nothing for the judge’s career or for his personal fortune. It would not pay him to rule in her favor. Perhaps he had received or expected a bribe from the litigants. We do not know the story behind the appeals. She was a widow; she probably lost everything when her husband died with no means of support and no authority. She had no one to stand up for her. She was alone and she really had no choice. She had to fight by appealing to the judge’s sense of justice.

And if he wouldn’t listen to what was good, right, and true, she would appeal to his sense of personal protection. Though he was a man who had no fear of God and no regard for humans, he did have a sense of his position. Her constant appeals were not only annoying, but they revealed her plight to the community. Like the mother who finally answers that pesky five-year-old, the judge gave up and said, “yet because this widow bothers me, I will defend her, or else she will wear me out by her continual coming.” The translation does fully convey the intent of these words.

Her persistence should be understood as “to strike in the eye” or “to give a black eye to someone.” In other words, this powerful and authoritative judge recognized that the weak widow could do damage to his reputation and his future. He saw that even though the widow had no wealth to pay him or power to secure him a better position, she could destroy his reputation in the community and make his job more difficult. He gave in to her cries and ruled in her favor. Sometimes human justice comes through the unrighteous motives of men.

Jesus told His parables to teach about the Kingdom of God, but the unjust judge is not a parallel for God. Jesus used the parable to show an exaggeration of a typical human response to a situation and then compared it to the reality of God’s ways. God does not have to be threatened with a loss of his power and authority to respond to human need or provide right justice. God could have stopped the wrestling match with Jacob any time he wanted. God is just and when he hears the cries of His people, He responds with mercy and grace, and He does so according to His good and perfect will. That’s why we can, and should, trust in Him.

This is not just a story about the persistence of prayer as it is often interpreted. Some people suggest that we should just keep praying for the same childish things over and over again like a pesky five-year-old until God finally gives in and gives us what we want. But this is also a story about justice. Is a child getting what they want a matter of justice? Is a judge who rules in favor of a widow a matter of justice? The lesson of this parable is to be persistent in matters of justice, to cry out to God for things to be made right in the world and with the world. God hears and He will always rule in favor of justice. Our journey is meant to take us to a place where we trust that God knows what is happening and that He is working to make everything right. What will Jesus find in our lives when He comes again? Are we working to grow His kingdom, to help those lost see that salvation is found in Him?

Many Christians are not prepared to take the Gospel to the world. They believe, but they do not think they understand enough about their faith to share it with others. They wrestle with God, struggling with the people and circumstances they face. They worry that they can’t be what God has gifted them to be or do what God has called them to do. They are afraid that they will do or say something wrong. They’d rather just let the professionals do the work of the Kingdom, but the Gospel was not meant to be proclaimed only by trained ministers. It is a simple message: God loves you so much that Jesus died to ensure you forgiveness and peace. Oh, there are aspects that make it more difficult, especially when they ask the hard questions, but God has given us all we need to know in the scriptures. He has given us a library of books to help us deal with the harder questions that will come from those who wish to know more.

Timothy was struggling. Paul’s letter was written to encourage the young pastor to be bold with his faith and the preaching of God’s Word. He had all he needed to do God’s work. “But you remain in the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them. From infancy, you have known the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus.”

Paul was among those who taught Timothy about faith in Jesus Christ, along with his mother and grandmother. I can imagine time around the fire as the family sang psalms and repeated the stories about everything that God did for the nation of Israel. I can imagine the prayers they said together as they prepared to sleep at night. I can imagine them going to the synagogue to worship God together. Timothy was brought up in the faith. His journey wasn’t a very hard one at first, but as a young pastor in the early days of the Church, Timothy faced all sorts of obstacles. The elders questioned his age. The Jews questioned his faith. The world questioned his life. Paul knew Timothy needed encouragement as he looked up into the hills. Who would be his help?

Paul told him to look to the scriptures. “Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that each person who belongs to God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Paul urged Timothy to preach boldly despite the struggles he would face in this world; he could trust that God was with him as he went to do the work he was called to do. We are encouraged to have the same kind of trust as we go on our own journeys of faith.

Paul writes not only for Timothy but for all of us, “But you be sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill your ministry.” Despite the struggles we will face, the people and issues we will wrestle, let us always remember the source of our strength and the foundation of our faith is God.

Throughout his life journey, Jacob struggled with his family, his future, and his fears. He struggled with God. In the end he discovered that he was not in control and that whenever he tried, he made life more difficult for himself. Paul wrote to Timothy about continuing in faith in Jesus Christ, by standing firm on the instruction he had received and believed. The widow in Jesus’ parable reminds us to be persistent in prayer but also in moving forward in faith, doing what is right according to God’s Word.

We don’t always recognize the journey as we travel. Our daily work and our everyday activities are part of a greater journey. We aren’t necessarily headed to a special place; we aren’t always seeking a sacred place. However, everywhere we go is sacred when know that God is with us always. He does not sleep. He helps us through our struggles and keeps us in our coming and going. He wrestles with us, and we wrestle with the world. We don’t need to make the journey to prove our worthiness to be in His presence. God loves His people and has chosen to be a part of our lives. Trusting in His graciousness, we join with the psalmist and sing songs of praise.

Our destination is always God. All that we do in faith is leading us to Him. We try to control the journey, so we work hard to make things happen, like Jacob, and we lose touch with the God who has set us on our path. Jesus asks, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Will He find us acting on our faith as we journey toward God with God at our side, trusting in His mercy and grace every step of the way?

It is my prayer that as God calls us to live faithfully in the world that we will respond with courage and peace, that we’ll face our Esaus and our judges with trust that God is with us. We know that God is faithful and that He will be with us on our journey of faith, giving us opportunities to share His Word with those who are lost and hungering for His presence in their lives. I also pray that we will heed the words of Paul to Timothy: that we will discharge our duties in a way that will glorify God and draw many into a relationship with Jesus. Our evangelism is not about manipulating people to become part of our community of faith. It is about taking God into the world with the strength, encouragement, prayer, and grace that God has provided through the body of Christ.


October 13, 2022

“Yahweh, I have heard of your fame. I stand in awe of your deeds, Yahweh. Renew your work in the middle of the years. In the middle of the years make it known. In wrath, you remember mercy.” Habakkuk 3:2, WEB

Edward was king of England from 1042 to 1066. He is not remembered as being a great king. As a matter of fact, his father-in-law Godwin held control over the country. Edward reigned though there was confusion about the succession of the crown at that time. There were claims from several other nations: the Normans and the Danes. Edward’s father was Ethelred was an ineffectual ruler who allowed a Danish takeover. Edward’s mother was the daughter of the Duke of Normandy. Edward had no children, so he named as the heir to the crown William of Normandy. The English people disliked Edward’s Norman heritage and many of the Normans that he placed in positions of authority. On his deathbed, Edward changed his mind and named Harold, the son of Godwin as heir. The damage had already been done, and the Normans had enough power. Edward gave them a reason to invade England. William the Conqueror killed Harold at the Battle of Hastings and became king of England in December 1066.

Though Edward’s political life was not successful, he became known for his piety. It is said he gave generously to the poor and spent time in prayer. He laid hands on men and women who suffered from disease in the hope of healing their ailment through prayer. He worked for peace, negotiating rather than fighting when possible. It was because of these characteristics that he was made a saint. October 13 is the feast day of Saint Edward the Confessor.

The stories about Edward do not suggest success, but that he had a desire to bring healing. Today there are many people who live similar lives, in prayer and seeking peace, but they don’t seem to experience a divine touch and the physical healing does not seem to come. We read of the incredible acts of Jesus and the apostles in the scriptures, of the blind receiving site, the lame walking and the dead being raised, we wonder why we don’t see miracles today. Unfortunately, some stories we hear of the work done by faith healers has been proven false.

Habakkuk the prophet lived in a time like ours when God seemed to be silent. The people had turned from the Lord God Almighty and were worshipping other gods. They were living lives filled with bloodshed, drunkenness and adultery. Habakkuk was discouraged, even calling out to God, “Yahweh, how long will I cry, and you will not hear? I cry out to you ‘Violence!’ and will you not save?” But the Lord promised Habakkuk He would not remain silent for long. “Look among the nations, watch, and wonder marvelously; for I am working a work in your days, which you will not believe though it is told you.” Habakkuk listened to the Word of God, then prayed.

Habakkuk saw the hardship of the people. He knew there were death and flood, famine and drought, yet he prayed. At the end of his prayer he said, “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.” In today’s world, we see so much suffering. There is hunger and poverty, ill health and violence. Like Saint Edward, we try to bring healing in prayer. Like Habakkuk we are discouraged. Yet, when all seems lost, when the world seems bent on destruction, we can turn to the prayer of Habakkuk, one that praises God in the midst of suffering and remembers His power. We have heard of His fame, from the witness of the scriptures and the saints of all time, and we do stand in awe of God’s good works. God answered Habakkuk’s prayer, in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today, let us remember that it is by His name that God’s deeds will flow and through Him God’s mercy endures. We call out like Habakkuk, “How long, O LORD?” God answers, “Watch! I am about to do something you would not believe.” Oh, Lord, renew your deeds today and make yourself known. Have mercy on us and grant us peace.


October 14, 2022

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” Psalm 139:1-12, WEB

Aristotle is credited with saying, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” It is easy to think when you are young that you have enough knowledge to take over the world. I saw a show with a young lady who was certain she knew better than her parents how to live her life. She was a drug addict, although she claimed she could stop any time she wanted. “I know what my body can handle better than anyone,” she said. She didn’t believe the doctors who showed her the damage she was doing to her body with those drugs. She didn’t care that the drugs might kill her. “I’ve done it twenty times and seen it done many more and everyone is fine.” She thought her experience was enough to give her the knowledge she needs to make good decisions. We learn as we grow older that it is impossible to know everything, and we are more mature when we recognize our own lack of knowledge.

I teach an adult forum at church and those who attend often joke about how I know everything about the Bible. I laugh along with them, not because I think it is true but because I know it isn’t. They often come to me with questions, certain that I will have the answer. The more I read and learn and grow in my faith, the more I know I don’t really know. It used to be so easy to define the Trinity because I used the typical analogies. Now I struggle with those same analogies because they are so inadequate to describe the incredible mystery that is the Trinity. The more I know about God, the more I know I don’t really know Him. And yet, it is when we reach that point that we see that God, if He is God, must be more than our human brains can comprehend. He must be bigger than we can imagine. Yet, He is also smaller than we expect. He is greater than the universe, but dwells in our hearts.

That’s where faith comes in. Unfortunately, instead of accepting the truth that God is beyond our reach, many people reject religion as being nothing more than a story or fairytale. They think that faith belongs at the edge of life, but someone once said, “God is to be sought in the ‘center of life’ and not in the borders of reality.” It is often said that we should follow our hearts. There is a bit of truth in this, but only if we see the heart as the dwelling place of God and follow Him.

God enjoys the relationships with His children, one on one. He is truly the Creator of the all the vastness of the universe, but He gets up close and studies everything about each us so that He knows us better than we know ourselves. He doesn’t watch from the borders of reality; He is right in the midst of the world in which we live. He knows every individual and how we fit together. He sees the lonely, the scared, the tired, and the weak. He knows the sinners and the righteous who sin. And He loves every one of us.

There is a much bigger world than just what we see at any one moment, but God sees it all. He is so close that He knows our deepest thoughts, but He is also far enough away to see the whole world. He is more than I can ever imagine and even more than I can ever know. This is such a comfort, because this means I can rest in the knowledge that God is in control. He knows our hearts. It might be uncomfortable to think about God knowing our innermost thoughts, our fears and doubts, but we can find comfort in the knowledge that God knows what we need and that He is faithful.

We don’t know it all, and we’ll never know it all, but it is good for us to listen to teachers, to study the scriptures, to struggle over the texts to have a greater understanding. However, we must always remember as we are on that quest for knowledge that we’ll never know it all. We don’t need to look too far away because God is right in the center of our lives. Let us embrace the reality that the more we know, the more we know we don’t know. We must embrace the truth that some things must be taken with faith. Jesus encouraged His disciples to be humble and curious and trusting as a child. We will never fully know God; He wouldn’t be much of a God if we could.


October 17, 2022

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’” John 11:25-27, WEB

Have you ever felt like you are in a hopeless situation? Perhaps you feel that way every day right now. You know there is something you should do, but you also know that it won’t do any good. For instance, parents know that it is impossible to reason with a toddler who is having a tantrum or a teenager who has decided to rebel. I’m still trying to figure out how we managed to survive those years! It must be especially difficult for those parents who are trying to keep their families safe and healthy during the crises of the past few years. We can all agree that it has been a struggle.

The early church struggled with many things. They struggled with the Jews who did not believe Jesus was the expected Messiah. They struggled with the Roman authorities who feared the impact of Christianity on the empire. They struggled with one another about what was holy, right, and true. They struggled, often unto martyrdom.

St. Ignatius was one of those early Christians. The second bishop of Antioch was martyred early in the second century. He was thrown to the wild beasts; he prayed that they would be prompt with him. “I shall entice them to eat me speedily.” He was not afraid to die. For him, death meant beginning his new life. In one of his final letters he wrote, “I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth... Do not stand in the way of my birth to the real life.” We celebrate his life today.

We struggle. We struggle with the people in our lives. We struggle with the financial difficulties we face. We struggle with illness, and we struggle with death. We struggle with the government and the legal systems of our nations. Even in our churches we struggle against one another over the issues of the day.

It was no different in the days of the early church. Paul and Peter had disagreements about new believers. The Jewish believers had differences with the Greek believers. The Gnostics and the Marcionites offered questionable interpretations of the scriptures. The apologists had to defend the faith and the Church had to decide what was holy, right, and true. They had to define what was heretical. The Church had to establish the proper canon, the creeds, and the apostolic faith. They struggled through all this; it was a turbulent time for the believers as they suffered persecution from the world and were divided among themselves. St. Ignatius may have struggled, but he did not fear death because he knew that God will not send us into the lion’s den without standing with us through the struggle.

Imagine the struggle of Mary and Martha when Jesus did not come to save their beloved brother. Their future was in jeopardy, but they also had such faith in Jesus that they were sure He could stop the inevitable. They must have felt disappointment, fear, anxiety, perhaps even some anger. We struggle with the story because we don’t understand Jesus’ attitude. Why wait? Why not save His friends from this crisis? Why not save His people from the crises we face in this world? Jesus waited so that we would see that there is hope, even when there seems to be no reason to hope.

Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” In response, Martha offered a confession of faith in Jesus. As simplistic as this may sound, that is all that is needed to see new life come out of death. Though Martha does not do anything to help Jesus bring Lazarus back to life, she joined in the work of God in her confession. She trusted that God could do it, and God did. St. Ignatius had the same faith. He trusted that God would give him life even after death.

We are going to struggle. We are going to struggle against the world and against ourselves. We are even going to struggle against our brothers and sisters in Christ as we all learn and grow in our faith and understanding of God’s Word. We will struggle against a world that rejects their need for salvation because they don’t believe they are sinners. Most people want to hear only what will tickle their itching ears; they will support only those who feed them what they want to eat. We will struggle, but when we do so we stand in good company with St. Ignatius and all those who realized that God is with them each step of the way, even unto the death that leads to true life.

The hope of all believers is found in Jesus Christ. Without Him we have no hope. With Him we have the hope that will never disappoint because God is always faithful to His promises. He has saved us and given us the faith to believe. He has given us the courage to stand in the lion’s den against the threat of death because He has given us a guarantee that we will live with Him forever.


October 18, 2022

“Since many have undertaken to set in order a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us, even as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write to you in order, most excellent Theophilus; that you might know the certainty concerning the things in which you were instructed... He said to them, ‘This is what I told you, while I was still with you, that all things which are written in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms, concerning me must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds, that they might understand the Scriptures. He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send out the promise of my Father on you. But wait in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high.’ He led them out as far as Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. While he blessed them, he withdrew from them, and was carried up into heaven. They worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.” Luke 1:1-4; 24:44-53, WEB

Today’s devotion is much longer than usual. To celebrate the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, I’m posting a homily I wrote two years ago for this day.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were ordinary men telling an extraordinary story. They all talked about Jesus in their own voices, from their own perspectives, for their own purposes. Their stories are different, but they are amazingly the same because they are all founded in Jesus Christ. By His grace, and power, and Spirit, those four men shared their witness so that others would know Jesus and be saved. United in intent, but unique in perspective, each Gospel writer presents a different picture of the life and ministry of Jesus.

If you are like me, you have a favorite Gospel. We all probably do because the evangelists speak to our hearts and our experiences. My favorite is the Gospel of John. I’ve spent years studying and teaching the deep spiritual truths found in his words. However, no matter how much we love one Gospel we quickly learn that all four are necessary for us to know the whole story of Jesus Christ.

Since today is the Feast of St. Luke, we are focusing on his Gospel. Who is his audience and what is his purpose? This will help us understand Luke’s perspective and the Jesus he wants us to know.

The first few verses of our text today are an introduction to Luke’s Gospel in which he told Theophilus why he was writing, ensuring that the words that follow come after a scholarly search for the truth about Jesus. Luke sums up his book with Jesus’ words of assurance that He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises, that His suffering was planned, and that the disciples were being sent into the world to preach repentance so that the nations would experience God’s forgiveness through Jesus and be saved.

The disciples wouldn’t do it on their own; Jesus promised that He would send them power. The text ends with Jesus’ ascension into heaven. They worshiped Him; after three years under His leadership and teaching, the disciples recognized that He was more than a great man. He was the Messiah and Lord, worthy of worship. They went forth with joy to wait in Jerusalem until the right time. Luke continued the story in the book of Acts, telling of that great day when the disciples were given the Holy Spirit so that they would have the power to act as the witnesses Jesus called them to be.

Our texts act as bookends to the Gospel of Luke, directing our attention to everything in between. Unfortunately, there are years’ worth of sermons in those twenty-four chapters, and you don’t want to listen to me that long, so let’s focus on his purpose.

Luke was a companion to Paul on some of his missionary trips. He was a Gentile physician who remained with Paul even after many had deserted him. Luke did not simply accept the stories with blind faith, he carefully investigated everything before he wrote. We do not hear about Luke’s conversion, but we know that he was an educated man. Did Luke believe immediately when he heard Jesus’ story? Or was he skeptical? He certainly did not reject the message of Jesus as we can see in his writings, both the Gospel and the Book of Acts. He took what he heard, studied the stories, and recognized the truth. He wrote his findings so that Theophilus and every generation of Christian since could also know the truth.

Luke spoke from an intellectual perspective. His purpose was to teach Christians, especially the Gentiles, about God’s kingdom and their place in it. He encouraged the preaching of the Gospel around the world. He focused on the miraculous power of God and the intimate relationship between God the Father and the Son. For Luke, Jesus was the Messiah who fulfilled the promises of God found in the Old Testament. He is the Savior of the world.

The universality of this Gospel message is important to Luke. Jesus died for the salvation of all people. The word “ALL” is important in Luke’s writings, used nearly three hundred times in the Gospel and in the book of Acts, far more often than the other Evangelists. Sometimes the word is frivolous or unnecessary, but its use emphasizes the fact that Jesus died for all. He refers to all people, all these things, all who were waiting, all who heard, all the region, all flesh. In verse 3:6, Luke points back to Isaiah when he says, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

There are many who claim that Luke did not have a theology of substitutionary atonement, seeming to show Jesus’ crucifixion as a matter of political expediency rather than atonement for sin. Though he has not included some of the obvious references to atonement in his narrative that are found in the others, salvation is intricately tied to forgiveness in several stories.

While he may not focus on Jesus’ death as a ransom, Luke does not reject the necessity of Jesus’ blood for the salvation of God’s people. Luke records the institution of the Lord’s Supper by showing Jesus blessing the cup that “is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Also, in today’s passage, Luke reminds us that Jesus was sent to suffer, die, and to be raised again to new life for our sake. Jesus promised that the purpose of the Church would be to continue the work which began with John the Baptist in chapter three: preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

In Luke, Jesus preached universal love and salvation for all. Luke uniquely shows Jesus praying for God to forgive those who crucified Him and gives mention of the words of those who were executed beside Him. There we see Jesus’ love poured out upon a sinner who confessed faith at the very end of his life. Luke shows us that even in those last moments Jesus revealed His salvation through one of the “ALL” who would be saved by His blood.

Throughout his Gospel, Luke shows the salvation of all sorts of people: men, women, children, gentiles, and people of various social classes. Luke presents Jesus as the prophet who has come to suffer for His people. He is a healer and a friend to tax collectors. He came to save the lost and the outcast. He is the Servant from Isaiah, who brings comfort to the suffering and oppressed. One of the possible Old Testament texts for this feast day is from Isaiah 35, and in it Isaiah writes “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame man will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing.” We see these promises fulfilled in the Gospels, especially in Luke.

Luke’s focus on salvation is less about a future afterlife than about living life as God intends it to be lived, actively participating in the reign of God. According to an article by Mark Allan Powell, Luke emphasizes salvation in the here and now, repeatedly using the word “today.” Salvation comes as peace, blessing, and eternal life as well as in the removal of disease, demons, and other things. For Luke there is no distinction between the flesh, spirit, and the social aspects of life, Jesus came to deal with all parts of our human experience. As Powell states, “In Luke ‘entering the reign of God’ and ‘being saved’ are treated as synonyms.” Also, “The life of Jesus has saving significance for Luke because it is in the life of Jesus that God’s reign is inaugurated and made manifest on earth. Through encounters with Jesus, people are set free from the things that prevent them from living life as God intends and, so, are enabled to participate in God’s reign.”

This means that Jesus saves the blind by giving them sight, the infirm with healing, the possessed with cleansing, the lame with legs that can walk, and the dead with life. Jesus also saves the sinners with forgiveness. We are all sinners that need to be saved and His salvation comes to us so that we can dwell in His Kingdom today as well as in His eternal Kingdom. Blessed with salvation from all our circumstances, we are called to share God’s grace with others.

Luke makes it clear that salvation can be either accepted or rejected. Faith implies a willingness to receive the blessing. Though sometimes His salvation is received passively, like the lamb and coin that are found, sometimes it is an active response to the promise of God’s grace, like the prodigal son who returns home after wasting what his father had given him.

Sometimes Jesus wants to save us from things that we do not want to give up, riches in particular. Luke shows several examples of rich men rejecting the call to repentance and the promise of salvation from their riches. Wealth, unfortunately, can make it difficult to enter and participate in the Kingdom of God. Luke reports in chapter eighteen that Jesus said, “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

But Luke doesn’t leave it there. In the next chapter he tells the story of Zacchaeus, a rich tax collector who experienced God’s forgiveness through Jesus and was saved from his wealth. It might be impossible for a rich man to enter God’s kingdom, but with God all things are possible. Faith changed Zacchaeus’ life in his present as well as his eternal destiny.

Luke’s Gospel is meant to encourage us to dwell in the grace we have been given, to receive His salvation in whatever form it takes in our lives. We know that Jesus saves us from ourselves, promising that by faith we’ll dwell in eternity with Him forever. However, we still live in this world, and we are given opportunities to share God’s grace. We struggle because we experience circumstances that make it difficult for us to be witnesses to the saving message of Jesus Christ. Jesus saves us from those, too, so that we can share Him with ALL who cross our path.

Luke’s focus on salvation might be different than the other evangelists, but we are reminded that we need all the witnesses to His salvation story. We celebrate Luke on his feast day, and even if he is our favorite Evangelist, we are counseled to hold to all the Gospels to understand Jesus completely. We need to know His story from all their perspectives, to see the entire character and ministry of Jesus. Each writer addressed a different audience and thus touched on specific needs, but we all need the whole Jesus, not just a part. We may find comfort in knowing that Jesus saves us from our daily struggles and invites us to dwell in His Kingdom today, but we are sinners who need to know that true life comes from His atoning sacrifice on the cross.

Those of us with faith in Jesus have been transformed by His grace, saved from whatever aspect of life kept us from being the people God created and redeemed us to be. As forgiven people of God, we are invited to live as He intends us to live, actively participating in His reign in this world today, sharing His Kingdom so that all the nations might be saved.


October 19, 2022

Lectionary Scriptures for October 23, 2022, Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost: Genesis 4:1-15; Psalm 5; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-17

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:14, WEB

The Psalter was Jesus’ hymn book. He learned it in the synagogue and on His mother’s lap. It was close to His heart and He often quoted verses from the Psalms, even from the cross. The Psalter was special to Martin Luther, also. As a monk he learned to 150 psalms by heart, able to sing them at will. He also quoted the psalms often, and looked to them for comfort and hope. He heard Jesus’ voice in the psalms, not only those He quoted, but all of them. He loved the Psalter because it proclaims God’s grace and teaches us to trust and believe in Him. We study the Psalter today because when we look at the past we are reminded that God can act for us today. His past gives us confidence for the future. The psalms are a literary sanctuary, a textual place where worshippers speak in the very presence of God. The ultimate message of the Psalms is to praise the Lord. It is said that the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. The psalms can be troubling at times, filled with laments, complaints and imprecations, yet they continually encourage us to trust in God and worship Him. They show us what God has done in the past and what He will do in the future. They teach us why He is worthy of our praise.

We love the psalms, at least some of them. We love when they focus on praise and thanksgiving, when they help us remember the great things God has done. We love when they point to the generosity and grace of God, particularly when we hear the story and voice of Jesus in the words. However, we struggle with others because they include curses and laments. Though we identify with the words of the psalmist, those psalms make the singer seem more like whiny children than faithful believers.

We also know that there are unintended consequences that come with our prayers. We may have every reason to ask God to deal with our enemies. We’ve been hurt; we have suffered. We know that God will take vengeance on those who harm His people. The psalms are filled with imprecatory prayers. We want to ask Him to deal with them, and perhaps God will answer that prayer. However, we do not always know how our desires will impact others. Even our enemies have families. They have spouses and children. They have people who rely on them. They have daily responsibilities. They have debts that need to be paid. Wiping our enemies off the face of the earth might solve one problem, but how will it destroy the lives of innocents?

We also look at these psalms with the knowledge that we are sinners, too. Who am I talk about evil, arrogance, and iniquity? Who am I to suggest that others are so wicked that they can’t stand in God’s sight? Even worse, who am I to think that I can?

Yet, we all know that there are times when the world seems to be against us, and we need a reminder that God takes care of the faithful. Today’s psalm is a morning prayer. It is a lament, but it is also model prayer for God’s people when they are assaulted by evil doers. The psalmist contrasts the sinners and the righteous. While we know that we are sinners in need of a Savior, we also know that Jesus takes care of those who look to Him for forgiveness by repenting and seeking His mercy. The psalmist believed in God and boldly prayed, trusting that He hears and will answer according to His Word.

If we met the Pharisee and the tax collector on the streets of Jerusalem, we would count one as righteous and the other as a sinner. Unfortunately, we would see them through the eyes of eyes of our own understanding of righteousness and disagree with Jesus. The Pharisees were known for their piety. They kept the ritual law and expected the same of others, including those who were not priests. They applied Jewish law to mundane activities in order to sanctify the everyday world. They believed they were righteous because they lived according to their understanding of the scriptures.

Our Gospel lesson is preceded by the question, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Jesus answered the question with a story of two men: one a Pharisee, and the other a tax collector. Each man approached the altar of God, desirous of being in the presence of the Most High. They approached with very different attitudes. The Pharisee thought he belonged there; he thought he deserved the grace of God. The tax collector approached God with a humble, repentant heart. He knew that he did not deserve God’s forgiveness, but he asked in faith knowing that God is merciful.

The tax collector was a man who was reviled not only for his vocation but also for his religious impurity. He was a sinner and as a sinner he had no right to stand in the presence of God. He was not even good enough to be in the presence of the righteous Pharisee. Jesus told them, “This man went down to his house justified rather than the other.” It was the sinner that humbled himself before God that was found to have faith. He was granted forgiveness and was justified before God. God is not fooled. He knows the heart. He knew the hearts of the Pharisee and the tax collector, Cain and Abel.

The Pharisee thought he was righteous and tried to justify himself; the tax collector knew he was a sinner and he left justified by God’s grace. The humble will be raised, and the proud will be set low.

It is a natural human response to that question of faith to think about the marks of Christianity, going through a checklist of our religious actions like worship, Bible study, and active service. Will Christ find us doing what He has called us to do? Will He find us living the life of discipleship? Will He find us glorifying God? When we are asked this question, we measure our righteousness in the only way we know how, by counting all our good works. When we can put a check next to all the marks, we can breathe a sigh of relief and rest assured that He will find faith, at least in our life.

The Pharisee’s words are incredible. He sounds a little like the psalmist, doesn’t he? “I know you will deal with the wicked, but you will pour your lovingkindness on me!” He thanks God that he is not like the sinners, even points out the tax collector praying nearby. He proclaims before God his list of good works. We are offended by this prayer, wondering how anyone could be so self-serving with his words. However, this was a typical prayer for the day as we can see in the psalms. There is a prayer of thanksgiving in the Talmud which was used by the rabbis as they entered and exited bible study. They thanked God that they were not like the people who did not study the scriptures. It was not considered self-righteous to recite this prayer; it was expected of those set apart for studying the Torah. In other words, this prayer of the Pharisee was probably an acceptable rote prayer that was regularly said by the Pharisee and his peers. This was the way things were done.

However, Jesus calls their attention to the other person at prayer in the room. The listening crowds were probably sympathetic to the Pharisee, perhaps even proud that the leaders were so righteous. They would have shaken their heads at the comparison to the tax collector who was a man reviled not only for his vocation but also for his religious impurity. He was a sinner and as a sinner he had no right to stand in the presence of God or the Pharisee who was so good. Jesus tells them, “This man went down to his house justified rather than the other.” It was the sinner that humbled himself before God that was found to have faith. It was he that was granted forgiveness and was justified before God.

We can’t say anything about the Pharisee because we all have moments like we see in Jesus’ story. How often do we beat our breast and fall before God because of our sinfulness. We might confess our sins once in a while, but do we really think that we need God’s mercy because we are sinners? Or do we compare ourselves to others thinking that we are better and deserve God’s grace?

This has been the problem with human beings from the beginning. We even see it in the story of Cain and Abel.

Martin Luther wrote about this text: “The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews has looked at this passage with pure and clear eyes when he says (Heb. 11:4): ‘By faith Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God bearing witness concerning his gifts.’ Cain also brings an offering, and indeed first; but when he brings his offering, he is puffed up by the glory which was his by birth, and he hopes that the sacrifice will please God because it is brought by the first-born. Thus he comes without faith, without any confession of sin, without any supplication for grace, without trust in God’s mercy, without any prayer for the forgiveness of his sins. He comes in the hope that he will please God by nothing else than that he is the first-born. All the work-righteous do the same thing even now. They are concerned only with their own work, and so they hope that they will please God because of it; they do not trust in God’s mercy, and they do not hope that God will pardon their sins because of Christ. Cain, too, was such a person, for he could not have displeased God if he had had faith. Abel, on the other hand, acknowledges that he is an unworthy and poor sinner. Therefore he takes refuge in God’s mercy and believes that God is gracious and willing to show compassion. And so God, who looks at the heart, judges between the two brothers who are bringing their offerings at the same time. He rejects Cain, not because his sacrifice was inferior (for if he had brought the shell of a nut in faith as a sacrifice, it would have been pleasing to God), but because his person was evil, without faith, and full of pride and conceit. By contrast, He has regard for Abel’s sacrifice because He is pleased with the person. Accordingly, the text distinctly adds that first He had regard for Abel and then for his sacrifice. For when a person pleases, the things he does also please, while, on the contrary, all things are displeasing if you dislike the person who does them.”

Isn’t that what we see happening in today’s Gospel lesson? The Pharisee is a man puffed up by his position, blessed by birth and by the community, honored for his work in the world. He believed in himself. He didn’t need God; he wasn’t praying. He used his time in the Temple to point out to God how great he was; he was there to show God how much better he was than the others.

George Matheson was a gifted young man. He was a preacher and theologian who lived in Scotland during the latter half of the nineteenth century. He went to the University of Glasgow and graduated first in his class. He decided to become a minister and in 1879 he earned his Doctor of Divinity from the University of Edinburgh. He did all this with a disability. He was born with poor eyesight and was almost totally blind by the time he turned twenty years old. His sisters learned Greek, Latin and Hebrew to help him with his theological studies and despite his blindness became an amazing preacher. He was able to memorize scripture and his sermons were so well presented that many people did not even realize that he was blind.

George was engaged to be married to a young lady until she discovered that he was going blind. She did not know how to deal with the life of a blind man, so she broke off the engagement. He tried to be a theologian, but his lack of eyesight made it difficult for him to do the necessary research. His colleagues found grave errors in one of his publications, so he gave up that work to return to parish ministry.

On the eve of his sister’s wedding, George was feeling abandoned. Though he was happy for his sister and wanted her to be happy, he recalled the pain he felt when his fiancé left him. He did not attend the wedding and felt utterly alone in the world. He was a blind man who did not know who would care for him once his sister had a life of her own. He did not know who would help him with his studies, with his sermons, with his ministry. On that night as he sat alone, he wrote the hymn “O Love That Will Not Let Me God.” The words of this famous hymn tell the story of a man trusting in God and recognizing His presence in difficult circumstances. It is a hymn of humility and commitment.

“O Love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe, That in thine ocean depths its flow May richer, fuller be. O light that foll’west all my way, I yield my flick’ring torch to thee; My heart restores its borrowed ray, That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day May brighter, fairer be. O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain, And feel the promise is not vain, That morn shall tearless be. O Cross that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to fly from thee; I lay in dust life’s glory dead, And from the ground there blossoms red Life that shall endless be.” (George Matheson, 1882, public domain)

Paul wrote the his second epistle to Timothy during his second imprisonment in Rome shortly before his martyrdom. He was imprisoned several times during his missionary travels, but this was the most uncomfortable. At other times he was kept in house arrest with access to his friends. He was able to minister, preach and teach. He was comfortable. In at least one case, he was able to leave the house to visit the Christians because he’d earned the trust of his captor. But the last imprisonment in Rome was not comfortable. He was in chains, probably in a cold, damp dungeon. He had confidence in other imprisonments that he’d be proven innocent, but he had so such confidence this time. He knew his time was soon.

Today’s Epistle lesson skips a few verses. They aren’t important to the point that Paul is making; it is a list of tasks Paul wants Timothy to accomplish. However, it is interesting that in this list we see Paul addressing a difficult situation. Paul asked Timothy to hurry back to Rome to be his helper. Paul listed all those who left him alone, asking Timothy to come and to bring others who might help.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith.” Taken out of context, Paul looks almost like that Pharisee in the Temple and those to whom Jesus addressed today’s parable: “certain people who were convinced of their own righteousness, and who despised all others.” Yet, his writing was not a self-righteous attack on those who had left, for Paul confessed that it was the Lord who was his strength through the persecution. “And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me for his heavenly Kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Paul fought the good fight, but it was time to pass the baton to the next racer. He felt abandoned, left to face the end alone. Yet, Paul knew he had not been totally abandoned. God was with him. God gave him the strength to go from grace to grace, to preach the Word even when it was dangerous. He gave the glory to God, never taking credit for the good that he did. He knew that faith meant trusting in God, not man, so even when he felt abandoned, he was never alone.

We see in the Old Testament and Gospel lessons that God is not fooled; He sees our hearts. God called out to Cain, “You can do better.” Jesus pointed out the self-righteousness of the Pharisee. If they learned to be humble and thankful, they would experience the same regard of God as Abel and the tax collector, whatever the offering might be. “If you do well, won’t it be lifted up? If you don’t do well, sin crouches at the door. Its desire is for you, but you are to rule over it.”

An old Native American Proverb reads, “There is a battle of two wolves inside us. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, lies, inferiority and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope humility, kindness, empathy and truth. The wolf that wins is the one you feed.” God warned Cain that there was a battle within his heart and that if he didn’t change his attitude, he would sin. He could change and please God and be blessed. The same is true for the Pharisee. The same is true for each of us.

Cain did not humble himself. Instead, he called Abel into the field and killed him. He rejected God’s warning and sin won in his heart. God knew what happened, but He asked Cain, “Where is Abel?” A humble heart would have recognized God’s test and would have confessed, but Cain continued in his arrogance and pride. “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain suffered the consequences of his sin: he was left without a means of support or a home. He could no longer farm the land and he was sent into the world as a fugitive and a wanderer. He was afraid. His pride led to anger which led to fear. He never trusted God and the evil wolf inside him won.

How do we feed the good wolf? We spend time with our Father. Devotional time is vital to feeding the faith that dwells in our hearts. I think we all can identify times in our lives when we were faithful in our devotional lives. During these times we pray regularly, are disciplined in our study practices. We manage to find the time even if we are overwhelmed by our schedule because it is a good habit we have developed. We can also identify times when we were not so faithful. We get caught up in the daily grind, think we don’t have even five minutes to give specifically to devotions. We pray on the run, eat the scriptures like we eat fast food. When we practice the daily routine of our devotional time, it is a natural extension of our being and we find our days go better. When we stop, for even a few days, it gets harder to keep up the practice and things in our life get out of control. Our devotional time, or lack of it, becomes visible to the world around us. It is when we lose that connection to our Father that we begin to think we are good enough to deserve what He has to give. The Pharisee may have thought he was more righteous than the tax collector, but the tax collector was closer to God because he recognized his own need for God’s righteousness.

Ignace Jan Paderewski, a polish pianist, once said, “When I miss a day of practice, I can always tell it. If I miss two days, the critics will pick it up. If I miss three days, the audience will notice it.” The same is true about everything we do. Though our devotional time is private, our time spent with God is obvious to the world around us. We go forth in faith, with joy and love, to do all that God would have us do. When we stop spending that time with the Lord, we lose touch with the source of our strength and faith. It does not take long before it becomes difficult for us to even find a few moments alone with God. We claim a lack of time and we try to go at it on our own. We find, all too quickly, that it is only with God’s help that our world is really under control. It is not enough to cry out to God occasionally in passing. It takes practice to develop a good pattern of time with God, but it is well worth the trouble. For our daily time with God will help us to live more closely in His heart and kingdom.

The psalm for today sounds much like the prayer of the Pharisee as he prayed for God’s help against the wicked ones. Yet, the prayers were very different. The Pharisee cried out from his self-righteousness, the psalmist for God’s righteousness. The Pharisee lifted himself above others, the psalmist lifted God above all. The Pharisee thought he deserved God’s grace; the psalmist knew that it was only by God’s grace that he could even enter His house to pray and worship. The Pharisee took refuge in his own works, the psalmist knew that the only place where we can find true refuge is in God and that those who trust in Him will be blessed.

Sin crouches at the door, but we can rule over it. God calls us out of our pride and arrogance to trust in Him, to change our ways, to humble our hearts. God will bless those who have humble faith, who trust in Him as a child trusts in a father. He is our strength; He will deliver us from evil. Everyone who humbles themselves will be raised up and God will be glorified in all that they do.

When the Son of man comes, shall He find faith on earth? He will find it in those who have humbled themselves, who have recognized their sinfulness and who have sought God’s mercy and grace. They will be justified. They will be the ones who can rest assured that they will spend eternity in heaven. It is not by our good works it is not because we can claim a list of right actions, that we can count on God’s promises. We can’t be sure we will be going to heaven because we have prayed right or worshipped right or done all the right things. Christ finds faith in the hearts of those who know that they are not worthy to receive the gifts but trust in God’s faithfulness. Those are the ones who will be justified, they are the humble ones who will be exalted.


October 20, 2022

“But the Spirit says expressly that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men who speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron, forbidding marriage and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with thanksgiving. For it is sanctified through the word of God and prayer. If you instruct the brothers of these things, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished in the words of the faith, and of the good doctrine which you have followed. But refuse profane and old wives’ fables. Exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise has some value, but godliness has value in all things, having the promise of the life which is now, and of that which is to come. This saying is faithful and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we have set our trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” 1 Timothy 4:1-10, WEB

It is hard to tell what’s real and what is fake these days, isn’t it? I wrote just a few days ago about how fake reality television really is. The moments of surprise are planned. The random conversations are scripted. You can’t even be sure if the “contestant” is the person you see or whether they are a character created for the show. Many of the contestants are people who have made a career on reality television, so they’ll do anything to get chosen for the game.

There was a story a few years ago about a boy that was supposedly whisked away in a runaway balloon. News reporters chased the balloon for several hours and the country worried about the six year old that was in danger. As more information became known, it was discovered that the boy was never in the balloon; he was hiding in a box in the garage. As it turned out, the family had been involved in reality television and they wanted to be chosen for another show. They were accused of perpetrating a hoax to gain the fame they desired for the possibility of more television opportunities. One day the family was wallowing in the attention of the nation, but they ended up hiding behind closed doors, begging to be left alone.

On October 20, 1967, two men recorded some of the most famous video of all time: video of Bigfoot. Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin went to Six Rivers National Forest in northern California because there were reports of sightings there for nearly a decade. Patterson became interested in the topic because of an article he read. He wrote a book in 1966 piecing together all the newspaper clippings, eyewitness reports and other information he’d gathered about Bigfoot. Patterson and Gimlin were hoping to get more evidence to give credibility to Patterson’s book. They went with the intention of shooting with only a camera, although wondered afterward if they should have shot the Bigfoot so that all questions would be put to rest.

Though the film appears realistic, it has long been regarded as a hoax by viewers, especially scientists. There are inconsistencies with the stories. Patterson and Gimlin were the only witnesses, although another man came forward years later claiming that he wore the costume specially created for this event. There is a question about the camera settings, the walk of the beast and the body. Several people claim to have made the costume, so it is impossible to know the truth. The scientific community didn’t pay much attention to the movie, claiming that it was not possible for the creature to exist in the conditions claimed by witnesses. Other hoaxes had been perpetrated over the years, and to this day no one really knows what is true. Recent reality television adds to the questions, especially since we know that reality television is not really real.

There are many questionable things in the world. Lake monsters, UFO’s, chupachabras and other dangerous and odd creatures reported around the world. There are numerous television shows that try to debunk the stories or find proofs. They seek scientific help with their evidence which includes video, audio, and artifacts found at the sites. Even with their modern, highly technical equipment, they usually finish their research with more questions than answers. They often leave a place scratching their heads, wondering what it was that they experienced, knowing that there is no logical explanation. It is interesting how often they are so close but not close enough to the answer, but then that is the reality of reality television.

We might laugh or shake our heads at some of these stories. After all, who would put so much time into creating a publicity stunt like the balloon boy’s family or the men videotaping a Bigfoot. Yet, there were those two thousand years ago that claimed Jesus’ resurrection was a publicity stunt done by the disciples to get the attention of the people of Jerusalem. After all, if the body disappeared, then Jesus’ words would have more credibility and the disciples would draw more followers. Even today there are still those that hold to the claim that Jesus never did rise from the dead.

Yet, we who believe that it is the truth are called to continue to be witnesses to the grace and mercy of God that is found in and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Just as in reality television and the strange mysteries of our world, there are those who make claims about faith. Be careful to know what it is you believe, to stand firm in that truth, and to do all that God has commanded. There are those who think they can fool the world, and they may do so for a season, but all things will come to light in God’s time. Walk in faith, trusting in God, and know that He has done all that has been said and He will do all that He has promised.


October 21, 2022

“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor that which is evil. Cling to that which is good. In love of the brothers be tenderly affectionate to one another; in honor preferring one another; not lagging in diligence; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; enduring in troubles; continuing steadfastly in prayer; contributing to the needs of the saints; given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless, and don’t curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Don’t set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Don’t be wise in your own conceits. Repay no one evil for evil. Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men. Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath. For it is written, ‘Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.’ Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good..” Romans 9:12-21, WEB

I love to be creative. I spend a lot of my time at the computer, but I try to spend an equal amount of time in my studio. I recently finished a painting I donated to our local zoo for their gala, which will hopefully help with the work they do. I have a couple more paintings on the easel, and a few ideas I plan to begin soon. I don’t just paint, I do a lot of crafts. I usually have some project under way, particularly at this time of year as I’m focusing on Christmas gifts. I’m just finishing my Christmas ornaments for the year.

Several years ago, I tried to put my craft to work for me and I started working craft bazaars. I thought perhaps I could make back enough money to pay for my hobby. Many crafts are quite expensive and selling a few might make it more affordable for me. One year I signed up for several different events at churches and schools. It is so much work: preparing the merchandise, taking everything to the site, setting up the table, standing all day, and then cleaning up. The spaces cost money. There is no way to know when you register as a vendor if there will be large enough crowds or if anyone will be willing to spend money on your items. There are many who do this for a living, but there is too much risk for the reward. I am just a hobbyist, and it is usually not worth my time or energy. I have art shows at my home a couple times a year; my fall show will be this weekend.

It is fun to attend the bigger craft fairs because at some point the other vendors walk around to look at what else is being offered. Sadly, I often spend as much or more than I make, buying items to use as samples or as gifts for friends. We don’t buy too quickly, however. I try to wait until I’ve made at least some money, especially the cost of the show. I didn’t buy anything at the last show because my sales were very disappointing. The vendors who make money will sometimes spend money. If they don’t make money, they won’t. And arts and crafts are cyclical; people don’t like to spend money on dust catchers if they can’t feed their family.

I often note how many of the crafts people have the same merchandise for sale because they follow the same trends that you find in the craft stores and catalogues. Some people love what they do, and they’ll talk about their process and techniques. They might even share secrets or pass on patterns. When I first attended those craft fairs, I sought their advice, and they were willing to share. Sadly, there are many who are in it only for the money. They only want to talk to you if you are buying their product. They rarely even walked around the sale to see what others had to sell. The first group was more likely to buy from another seller to support their effort and help them overcome a bad day. The second group would not even consider bartering deals because they are only interested in the cash. The craft fair circuit is almost like a family, and it was such a blessing to see at least some showing kindness to those who are competing for the same customers. I will miss that aspect if I don’t do any more shows.

As Christians we are called to do kindnesses in the world. We are sent to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are sick and dying in their sin. Jesus did not save us to huddle together in our little community of believers apart from others, but to go out in faith to share what we have. However, in this passage from Paul, we are reminded to take care of the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to serve one another in love, to ensure that there are no Christians who are in need, for those who suffer cannot do well in the world.

Unfortunately, like the craft fair circuit, there are those who are Christians for their own purposes, and they care little about the needs of others. They are unwilling to share their gifts, particularly with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Perhaps they fear that they won’t get credit or that they will have to share some reward. However, Paul encourages us to put aside our own desires for the sake of other believers, that we will all be blessed for the work of the kingdom in this world.


October 24, 2022

“Yahweh, the God of their fathers, sent to them by his messengers, rising up early and sending, because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place; but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and scoffed at his prophets, until Yahweh’s wrath arose against his people, until there was no remedy. Therefore he brought on them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or gray-headed. He gave them all into his hand. All the vessels of God’s house, great and small, and the treasures of Yahweh’s house, and the treasures of the king, and of his princes, all these he brought to Babylon. They burned God’s house, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all of its valuable vessels. He carried those who had escaped from the sword away to Babylon, and they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill Yahweh’s word by Jeremiah’s mouth, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. As long as it lay desolate, it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years. Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that Yahweh’s word by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, Yahweh stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, ‘Cyrus king of Persia says, “Yahweh, the God of heaven, has given all the kingdoms of the earth to me; and he has commanded me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all his people, Yahweh his God be with him, and let him go up.”’” 2 Chronicles 36:15-23, WEB

I worked long hours when I was a retail manager. I was a single woman, with no family responsibilities or other obligations. You’ve probably noticed that stores like to refresh their sales floors and it takes a lot of workers to make that happen. It also takes a lot of hands to fill brand new stores. Companies often had workers that worked on those set ups, but sometimes they call employees from other stores to help, especially in the final days. I really enjoyed taking a fixture from scratch and filling it with new goods, figuring out how to best to place the shelves and the merchandise. The companies had plan-o-grams, but sometimes the units were not the same size, so stacking was like putting a puzzle together.

I was involved in several projects, which added hours to my schedule. I worked full time at two separate stores: my regular job as a manager and setting up a new store. That schedule meant I was working over ninety hours a week. I didn’t really mind because the paychecks were wonderful, but I stopped taking time off when things got really busy. I was fine until the third week of very long days without a break. Then I became tired and drained. My body rebelled. I became sick, on the verge of collapse. I knew then that I needed to take time off or I would suffer the consequences. This is the gift of the Sabbath: one day in seven without work to rest.

Farmers recognize this concept in their fields. It is recommended that a field be allowed to go dormant one year out of every seven, so that it can rest and recoup. If a farmer uses a plot of land year after year with the same plants, the soil stops producing because all the nutrients are gone.

When you read the Old Testament, you notice a pattern in the life of God’s people throughout their history. At times they were humble before the Lord who promised great things for His people, crying out for His love and mercy. They built and restored temples, lived rightly and worshipped Him. Out of love and His incredible grace, He blessed their life with peace and prosperity. Success in earthly relations and material possession led to pride, and eventually the people turned away from the One who blessed them with all good things. They began to worship other gods, turned to their neighbors for help, and forgot the Lord. God took away his protection and they suffered the circumstances of their rebellion. In their humiliation they cried out to God. He remembered His promises, restored them, and blessed their lives until they once again turn away from Him. This pattern continued over and over, from king to king and generation to generation. Finally, in the end, they had destroyed everything good that God had given to them. Even the land surrounding Jerusalem was no longer good for planting because they had forgotten to rest the land or themselves. God allowed the people suffer the consequences of their irresponsible use of His gifts.

The people forgot God and His Sabbath. They had destroyed every good and perfect gift. The exile seemed like such a horrible time for the people of Israel, but God used it for good. The land around Jerusalem had time to rest and the soil was renourished. The people turned to the Lord God and rested in His promises. The exile was a Sabbath rest for the people and all that was theirs.

It wasn’t good for me to work constantly, even though I had no responsibilities outside my job. I needed rest to stay healthy so that I could do my job. My body rebelled and I had to slow down. Though we do not all celebrate the sabbath as the people did in Israel, there is much value to setting aside time for nothing but rest and to worship the Lord our God. The rest for our body keeps us whole physically and mentally and worshipping the Lord keeps us strong spiritually. If we do not stop sometimes to just sit and listen, we will fall apart and destroy all the good things the Lord has given us. We will find ourselves separated from that which we love. God gives us rest; may we always take time to stop and worship Him.


October 25, 2022

“Now to him who is able to keep them from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory in great joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.” Jude 1:24-25, WEB

Today’s text is called a doxology. Doxologies are short hymns of praise to God used in various forms in Christian worship. They are often added at the end of canticles, psalms and hymns and focus our attention on the One whom we are worshipping with our words and music. The word “doxology” comes from the Greek words “doxa” which means “glory,” and “logia” which means “saying.”

Most of us are familiar with the Gloria Patri, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now and will be forever. Amen.” This doxology, like many others, includes three parts: the person for whom the praise is sung, an acknowledgment of glory, and an expression of timelessness. In the Gloria Patri, you see that the hymn is sung to honor the Trinity, glorifying the Godhead from the beginning to forever.

The Lord’s Prayer, found in Matthew 6:9-13, is concluded in our gatherings with another doxology. “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.” Though it is not part of the original text, the doxology finishes the prayer and focuses our hearts on the one to whom we have prayed. We begin and end those prayers, which include supplication, confession and submission, with praise and adoration to the One who hears and answers.

You are probably familiar with the next doxology; some traditions simply call it “The Doxology.” “Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” This doxology is used in worship, particularly on Thanksgiving, and often as a table prayer. This is another song of praise to the Trinity, calling all of creation to praise God for His blessings.

It is interesting that this piece, which is perhaps the most frequently used piece of music, was not written specifically as a doxology, but as the final verse to two hymns. Thomas Ken, a seventeenth century bishop, poet and hymn writer, used these words at the end of a morning hymn and an evening hymn. “Awake, My Soul, and with the Sun,” calls God’s people to begin the day on the right foot, shaking off sloth and setting attitudes in the right direction, thanking God for another day. “All Praise to Thee, My God, this Night,” thanks God for another day, asks His guardianship over the night and asks, “O when shall I, in endless day, forever chase dark sleep away, and hymns divine with angels sing, all praise to thee, eternal King?” Both hymns end with the doxology, praising God the Trinity for His blessings to heaven and earth.

Today’s passage is one among many doxologies in the scriptures, both Old Testament and New Testament. Jude wrote to remind them of the destruction that came to those in the past who did not believe. He warned about those who followed the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and who despised authority. “These men are grumblers and fault finders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their advantage.”

Imagine what it must have been like for those who received this letter and heard it read in their assembly? We all are guilty of these things at times, and those of pure heart would have been reminded of their own sin. Jude doesn’t leave it go at that, however. He writes a call to perseverance, reminding them of the Gospel and encouraging them to build their faith and keep from following the foolish ways of the godless. He then ends the letter with a doxology.

Jude gave them a reminder that it is God who will keep them from following the foolish ways of the flesh. If he had written only of their godlessness, the people would have left feeling unworthy to do the Lord’s work, however he reminded them of the true focus of faith. When we share the Law, we must follow with the Gospel. When we show people their sin, we must remind them of the source of their forgiveness and strength to overcome. When we preach, we should always follow with a doxology of praise, so that we can go out with hearts that are living in worship of the fullness of God. As you go about your day, praise God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who is, was and will be forever and ever. Amen.


October 26, 2022

Lectionary Scriptures for October 30, 2022, Reformation Sunday: Revelation 14:6-7; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36

“Jesus therefore said to those Jews who had believed him, ‘If you remain in my word, then you are truly my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’” John 8:31-32, WEB

This devotional reaches across national borders and across denominational lines, touching the lives of Christians around the world. It is unlikely that we would ever be found worshipping in the same church building, not just because of geography, but also because we see the world from much different perspectives. We like different types of worship styles. We have different ways of focusing our faith. We have doctrinal differences. It doesn’t help to ignore the reality, but we are reminded that despite all our differences, there is something that holds us together. Though there are divisions among us, the Holy Spirit makes us one. We who are saved by faith in Christ Jesus are one body, no matter where we live, how we worship, or how we serve God in the world.

I try, in this writing, to speak with a voice that reaches across the national borders and denominational lines. I try to speak to the heart of the body of Christ, to the place where we all live, in His grace. I am human, of course, and I have my own style, focus, and doctrines which I believe and follow, and it is impossible for me to keep those separate from the messages I share. I pray every day that God will use my limited vision to touch the readers with a message that will reach them where they live.

That said, I can’t help but focus this week’s Midweek Oasis on a moment in time that helped mold my life and faith: October 31, 1517. Lutheran churches will celebrate that day on Sunday. A few others will remember what happened five hundred and five years ago. That is the day when Martin Luther posted the Ninety-five thesis on the door of Wittenberg Church and kicked off the Reformation. The theses were written to open debate between scholars about the abuses in the Church at that time, particularly the sale of indulgences. This began a conversation that led to a movement that sought to restore the Christian faith to a simpler time, to a time when the work of God, His grace, was the center of the faith.

My husband and I stood in front of that door when we visited Germany in June. Of course, the original door is long gone. A new one was installed in November 1858; it is a bronze door inscribed with the ninety-five theses created by Friedrich Drake. One of the things we learned during our pilgrimage to the Luther sites is that very little is actually as it had been five hundred and five years ago. You can visit his childhood home, except that the actual building was destroyed by fire long ago. You can visit the place where he died, except the information available when it became a pilgrimage site soon after Luther’s death was incorrect, and Luther’s Death House Museum is actually in the wrong building. You can still see where Luther was baptized, but the font is only partially original. It is not that they are trying to deceive visitors, the same thing is true in all ancient places. Even in Israel the tourist sites are the best guesses of those who wanted to honor the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Still, it was quite an experience to walk where Luther walked, to see the world through his eyes. The Wartburg included an hour long tour of many beautiful rooms as they might have been when Elizabeth of Hungary lived there, but the only thing I really wanted to see was the room where Martin Luther lived as Junker Jorg when he was in hiding. This room has not been renovated. The plaster on the walls was falling down. There was a few pieces of furniture and a copy of the Lucas Cranach painting of Junker Jorg. The room was even dusty. However, it was the actual room where Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German, so it was a highlight of my trip.

Martin Luther is definitely an important figure for the German people. The celebration for the five hundredth anniversary of the nailing of the theses lasted ten years. It has actually lasted longer, because you can still see the museum exhibits that were created, and the tourist sites are much better because of the renovations that were done to prepare. In the years leading up to 2017, the Germans did a lot to make everything like new, including relations with those who might not appreciate Martin Luther very much.

An author wrote an article a few years before the celebration that began, “It's rare to be invited to an event five years off and even rarer to bicker about its details, but Germany’s Catholic Church finds itself in that delicate situation thanks to an overture from its Protestant neighbors.” The article described an invitation from Germany’s Protestant community to its Roman Catholic Christians to join in the celebration. After all, they lived together, worked side by side, and the Reformation impacted their world in more ways than just religion. The churches are equal in size, and they are equally active in public life. Intermarriage is common. It is not surprising that the Protestants might want to involve their neighbors, even if they are Roman Catholic.

Of course, we know that the impact of Luther and the other Reformers was not always positive. It was, in essence, a divorce. How do you celebrate a tragedy with merriment? While Luther’s translation of the Bible made it available for the average person and his work shaped the German language, the Reformation caused wars in which a third of the German population was killed. In the past five hundred years, hundreds, if not thousands, of new denominations have formed, further dividing Christ’s church. It is no wonder that the Roman Catholics of Germany were hesitant to join in the jubilee, but they have embraced the idea that they are Catholic in Lutherland. We even passed a Catholic church in Wittenberg that had a sign that said, “Katholisch in Luther stadt.”

Luther never wanted the church to split, he simply wanted some aspects of the church to be restored to the way they had been in the beginning. He always wanted reconciliation, even if he refused to concede the points that he believed mattered to the Christian faith.

The Christian faith is about reconciliation and forgiveness, and Roman Catholics are still trying to find some common agreement. Groups have met over the years to discuss the historical reality of the Reformation, an event for which we all need forgiveness. We see it differently, of course, but the truth is somewhere in the middle of our opinions, and we have to find a way to agree on the history before we can ever really forgive one another. Luther was imperfect, but so were those on the other side.

Some might wonder, “Why bother?” after all, it isn’t just the Lutherans who have found Christian faith apart from the Roman Catholic Church, and those who are Roman Catholic might wonder why we should find any agreement. Martin Luther never wanted division; he wanted reformation and restoration. Our ultimate goal, even today, is for unity in Christ’s Church. It may be difficult, it might even be impossible, but the Christian faith is founded upon forgiveness and reconciliation. If we can’t forgive our brothers and sisters in Christ, how will we ever preach forgiveness to the world?

Most of you who are neither Lutheran nor Roman Catholic might wonder what this has to do with you. Some of you come from Christian churches that were not even formed out of the Reformation. Reformation day is meaningless to you. This may be true, but the lessons we learn from the texts chosen for this Sunday are applicable to all of us, the entire body of Christ, no matter our differences. The texts, which focus on God’s saving grace, are the foundation of our faith.

Martin Luther was an educated man who studied the scriptures and had a good sense of God’s love, but he was so riddled with guilt that he spent hours confessing his sins and seeking forgiveness. He was a priest, and he was afraid that if he was not justified before God, then his entire congregation would be condemned forever. He included every minor and trivial thought, word or deed that was not perfect. He suffered great pains spiritually. He tried to be perfect, but when he was not perfect, he obsessed over receiving forgiveness for himself for the sake of his congregation.

One day, however, Martin Luther realized that he could never confess himself into salvation. He rediscovered the foundation of the Gospel message in Romans 3: it is not by our works that we are saved, but the amazing grace of God saves us.

When Martin Luther read the passage from Romans 3, he rediscovered the foundation of the Gospel message: it is not by our works that we are saved, but by the amazing grace of God. It is so much easier for us to do good works than to accept the humbling reality that we can never make ourselves good enough to enter into the presence of God. We don’t want God to see our imperfections and we fear what will happen when He does. It is much, much harder for us to cry out to God in our imperfections because we are truly afraid of what He might say. Yet, the true path, the better path, is to cry out in faith knowing that God is gracious and merciful, full of forgiveness. There is nothing we can do to earn His grace, but in faith we can boldly approach Him with our needs. He will stop and listen. He will heal. In Him and in Him alone, we have joy and hope and peace.

The turning point for Luther’s faith was the reminder of God’s grace. He realized that there was nothing he could do to make himself right with God. He was a sinner in need of a Savior, and only Jesus Christ could bring justification and sanctification to his life. This knowledge made Luther free. It makes us free, too, to live and love and work according to God’s righteousness, following the passions of our heart which by faith will be in line with God’s will. He calls us from the inside, through the gift of faith we receive as we believe in Jesus. The new attitude we have in the New Covenant will make us long to be actively involved in God’s creative and redemptive work. We are not forced to be righteous according to some man-made expectation. God has made us righteous and in that righteousness, we’ll do what is right. He has set us free.

Martin Luther’s nailing of the Ninety-five Thesis began something that he never intended: division in the body of Christ. But on this Reformation Day, we can talk about forgiveness and reconciliation with our brothers in sisters in Christ across the national and denominational boundaries. We are bound together by something that cannot divide us, the grace of God. We can, as John writes, “Fear the Lord, and give him glory; for the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and the springs of waters!” together in our own places, in our own ways, despite our differences. The God who formed the earth has saved us and given us the faith to live in the here and now until that day when we will be reconciled for eternity.

In the texts for today we see a strong and powerful image of God. He is “our refuge and our strength.” We need not fear, like Martin Luther feared for himself and for his congregation, because God is a very present help in trouble. It was Psalm 46 that Martin Luther used as the basis for one of his most important works: the hymn “A Mighty Fortress.” God is always there. He is a fortress in times of difficulty and a refuge in times of need. When things are looking bad in the world in which we live, as they must have looked to Luther in 1517, we can rest assured that God is present, active and faithful.

The Old Covenant included list of laws that were required for righteousness. Leaders demanded obedience, and they made threats or bribes to keep the people in line. The leaders laid heavy burdens on the people, and the people failed. That’s why God made the New Covenant that gives the believer the faith to live according to God’s Word.

Jesus told those listening that the truth would set them free, but the Jewish leaders didn’t understand what he was talking about. “We are Abraham’s offspring, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How do you say, ‘You will be made free’?” They relied on their heritage; they relied on Abraham and Moses for their salvation. But since they could not keep the Law perfectly, they would always fail to live up to the expectations of that Law. Jesus said that whenever you sin, no matter how small or insignificant, you are a slave to sin. This is what Martin Luther discovered when he was trying to confess himself into salvation.

The New Covenant gives us a new attitude; it reforms our thinking about God’s Law and God’s Word. In faith we respond to the call of God. The Old Covenant, which comes from outside, is replaced with a covenant that comes from inside. The Law still has a purpose, in that it helps us to see that we are in need of a Savior. When we hear the Gospel, God’s Word is placed in the heart; faith is given so that the believer can act out of love rather than fear. We are no longer burdened by that Law, but we are set free to live out God’s Word by faith.

The main feature of the Ninety-five Theses was the argument against indulgences. The Church and secular authorities used the superstitious fear of the people to sell indulgences to raise funds to build a massive new church building in Rome by feeding the fears of hell that were held by the people. The Church was selling entrance into heaven; according to them the only way to end up in heaven was to pay for it. The sellers of indulgences convinced the people that they could also pay for those already dead, so the poor became poorer by paying to set loved ones free from the bondage of purgatory.

People were ignorant of God’s Word, they received only what was given to them by the priests. The priests were often uneducated and heretical in their understanding of God, partly because they were ill-informed and partly because so many pagan thoughts had entered into the Christian understanding of God. It was a time of fear. Those who were faithful were so afraid of the wrath of God that they could not find peace or hope in their life. Guilt was a tool used by the Church to convince the congregation to purchase indulgences. They even had a cute jingle: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

I suspect that the Church leaders five hundred years ago did not understand that the indulgences they were offering were just a type of slavery. By demanding that the people pay for grace, they were burdening them with a law that could not be kept. How would the poor buy bread for the day if they were buying indulgences for those they loved? But we are not much different today. We burden people with demands that they can’t keep, making them slaves to our own ideas or practices. How many Lutherans and Roman Catholics fear for their neighbors because they are afraid that they have not adhered to the right faith? This is true also of the other Christians that disagree with both the Lutherans and the Roman Catholics. We all need to be freed by the Gospel of Christ that binds us together despite our differences.

I once listened as a church leader give a message about stewardship using the theme of loyalty. He demanded that every member should be loyal to that church, to that building, and to that ministry. He missed the mark in that speech, and in doing so laid a heavy burden on the congregation. Our loyalty is not to a building or a pastor or a denomination. Our loyalty is to God. It is good that we find a place to practice our faith with others who have similar ideas, enjoy similar worship, and are able to focus our faith on the same things. It is good to join our offerings, our good works, and our gifts with others of like mind so we can work together in common purpose. In the meantime, people in other places with other ideas and styles and focus will do things together, too, all for the glory of God. But we have to remember that we are not serving the church or even the people; we are serving God and doing these things for Him. When we focus our loyalty on the world, we lose touch with God, and we are once again a slave to sin.

The foundation of all our faith is forgiveness and reconciliation, first from God and then with one another. Yes, the differences are great, and it is unlikely we will ever be one visible Church in this world, but the invisible church is one Body, Christ’s body by faith. When we rely on our own righteousness, we will fail; we will never really be free. Freedom comes from God; faith is the gift that is planted in our hearts and that changes our attitude. Faith distinguishes the slaves from the children of God. By faith you are a son or daughter of the Most High. This is the truth that both sets us free and makes us one with other Christians.

This life of grace is what Martin Luther discovered as he searched the scriptures for relief from his burdens. He longed to be freed from the fear, guilt and pain he experienced when he recognized himself as the sinner that he was. He knew there was no way he could be good or enough for the gifts of God. His fears threatened to affect his ministry, because he thought his lifetime of sin would invalidate the work he was called to do in the church.

There is a rock opera about the life of Martin Luther. It was written by the group Lost and Found, based on a graphic novel that was published by Dr. Rich Melheim. The songs tell the story of the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation and ends with a song that makes us all consider how the Reformation continues today. The refrain goes like this, “If I knew that the world would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree today. There is hope amid the sorrow and there’s joy along the way. There’s a world in every moment and a moment when we find that the tree of life is growing all the time.”

One of the stanzas from that song goes like this: “Stumbling through the dark, when this all began, seeing what was wrong, yet without a plan. Now, we’ve come so far, it seems as though we’re done, but God’s reforming word has only just begun.” Every day is a day for reformation. Every day is a day to trust in God. Every day, even the final day, is a day to plant a tree, always hopeful and joyful that God will keep the tree of life growing for eternity because God has set us free to truly live as we were meant to live.

The grace of God is the incredible truth that the work of salvation is not dependent on man but rather on the mercy of God. When we realize that we are sinners in need of a Savior, our whole world is turned upside down. We are set free from the burdens of the law so that we might live to the glory of God in His grace. This is what happened to Martin Luther when he read Paul’s words to the Romans, “We maintain therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”

I sometimes wonder if it is time to have another Reformation, and there are others who think the same. Unfortunately, the focus of a new Reformation for many is a personal freedom to do what they feel is best according to their hearts. However, the Reformation we need is the reminder that we are sinners saved by grace and that God has mercy on us so that we might glorify Him with our lives. We need to recognize God’s grace. We need to remember that God’s grace does not set us free to live as we want; He sets us free to live to His glory. In that grace we are called to live in a manner in which our faith will grow and that our love for one another will increase.


October 27, 2022

“Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God. Yahweh is one. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. These words, which I command you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the door posts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9, WEB

Martin Luther was an educator, both in the University and in the Church. His sermons are said to have been filled with lessons about the scriptures, and passion for the Word. He couldn’t speak softly; it was too exciting for him to share what he had discovered about God. Sadly, he didn’t see the same passion from the parishioners. He discovered during his ministry that most people didn’t care much about their faith. They attended church, probably more regularly than many Christians today, but they didn’t know what they believed. They went, they listened, and then they forgot everything the minute they left the sanctuary. Perhaps the fault lay with the pastors and preachers, most of whom did not have more knowledge or passion than the average person. The pastors were certainly unskilled and incapable of teaching the people.

Martin Luther decided to do something about it. He wrote a catechism designed for use in the home. It explained the basic tenets of faith in a way that the common man could teach it to his own children. The family was expected to spend time each day in the catechism so that the children would learn and grow in their faith and knowledge of God’s Word. It was not enough to Luther for the believer to know the prayers and creeds by rote. He wanted them to understand them, too. In the catechism, he wrote one sentence explanations answering a simple question, “Was ist das?” which means “What is this?”

Luther was not the first to create a catechism. They had been around for many years, given to new believers to instruct them in the faith. They included the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments, usually in that order. Martin Luther took the opportunity to put even more substance into the catechism by changing the order of those three important documents of faith. He began with the Ten Commandments, then included instruction about the Creed and finally the Lord’s Prayer. His order took the believer from Law to Gospel, so that the believer could see their need for grace, confess their faith in Christ, and then learn how to pray for the grace to live that life in this world.

In the lesson for today, Moses reminds the people of the importance of teaching the children God’s Word and to keep the Word close to them. This is what Luther intended with the catechism. It was a way to teach the children, so that the Word of God would be written on their hearts. And not only the children; the Word would be written ever more clearly on the hearts of the parents who teach them. When the Word dwells within us, we walk in the light and live according to God’s good and perfect Law.

The Law was not given to oppress or burden the people, but to protect them. God’s Law is not a bunch of rules that we have to keep, it is a sign, a gift. God loved His people so much that He gave them the Law to help them live in that love. Obedience was the response of God’s people to the love of God. He loved us and we love Him by living according to His Word. The Law was a conditional covenant given so that the people would remember God and look to Him always. Whenever they were disobedient to the Law and their God, they suffered the consequences of a broken relationship. When they observed the commandments, they enjoyed the blessed life that God promised. The commandments are instructions about relationships, how to keep them strong: first with God, then with each other. They also affect our relationship with ourselves. When these relationships are broken, we have no peace or joy.

Martin Luther discovered the reality of the Law: God expects us to live perfectly, but no matter how hard we try we fail. We sin. We break the relationships that God has given to us, with Himself and with our neighbor. Jesus came to show the true purpose of the Law, so that by it we will turn our hearts and minds to Him for salvation rather than our own ability to be obedient. That’s why the Ten Commandments are first in Luther’s catechism. As we discover our inability to be righteous, we see our need for Jesus.

In recent years, many parents have decided to give their children the freedom to come to faith on their own. They refused to drag a child to church only to have them reject it when they were older. Instead, they let the children choose if they wanted to be Christian or whatever. The problem with this practice is that faith comes from hearing. How will they know if they never hear God’s Word spoken? Is it force to take a child to Sunday school and worship during their childhood? It is not bondage; it is a gift. We are called as parents to give to our children the same opportunity to know Jesus as we were given. If we don’t, they won’t.

The Law will never make someone a Christian and following the Law will never make someone righteous. I’ll never be perfect, but I can look to God to help me live as He wants me to live, beginning with loving Him. As we love God, will we strive to know Him, to understand His Word, and to make it our own. This comes with keeping the Word close to us, constantly studying the Bible so that it is written on our hearts. When the Word dwells within us, we walk in the light. Because we love Him, we will live according to the gift of His good and perfect Law.


October 28, 2022

“There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For he who has entered into his rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from his.” Hebrews 4:9-10, WEB

We like weekends because they are usually a chance to get away from the busy-ness of the work week. Unfortunately, they are usually filled with things to do, keeping us much too busy. We sometimes enjoy pleasant activities on weekends, but we also use that time to catch up on work that just can’t get finished during the week. Weekends usually mean we can sleep a little later in the morning, but it is never quite enough to catch up on the sleep we need from our busy lives. There is always work that can be done around the house. No matter how hard we try to keep up with everything, there are always dishes in the sink, clothes in the laundry, and yard work to be done. Saturdays leave us breathless with busy-ness, but we try to refresh our bodies with that extra hour or so of sleep.

Sunday morning is set aside for worship. In those hours we experience a spiritual rest that we can't get anywhere else, even in bed. That time with other Christians, worshipping God, hearing His Word, and dining at His table gives us the strength to make it through another week. Isn't it funny, though, most of us don't really even get to rest much at church on a Sunday morning? We have responsibilities, work to be done around the church. Some of us are busy with bible study lessons or preparing the sanctuary for worship. Others are practicing the music or ushering visitors to their seats. We need people to prepare coffee for fellowship and to make sure there is toilet paper in the bathroom.

I spent some time as a part time employee of a congregation a few years ago. I was in charge of the newsletter and other communication. One of the disadvantages was that I never had a restful Sunday morning; those who are employed by the church often find themselves involved in conversations about work that will need to be done during the upcoming week. Many members would rather just deal with those conversations on a Sunday morning when they will be at church anyway, forgetting that the staff members also need to be able to focus on the Lord and worship, honoring the Sabbath and keeping it holy. There is always work to be done, and even at church there is no end to it all.

God created the world in six days, and then He rested. He did not rest because He was tired, but because His work was done. God gave the Sabbath to humankind as a gift so that we will stop and rest, knowing our work is done. Sadly, our work never seems to be done. We take time out on the weekends from whatever job pays our bills, but then we must mow the lawn or do the laundry. We go grocery shopping or change the oil in the car. We do our work at church, preparing the things for worship, singing in the choir, or teaching Sunday School. The rest of Sunday is spent doing the work that didn't get done on Saturday. By Monday morning, we begin again without ever really finishing.

These activities are good things. We volunteer at church or in our neighborhoods, giving ourselves sacrificially to others. At times, however, these responsibilities leave us no time to follow God’s example and embrace His gift of Sabbath. Sadly, our constant busy-ness often leads to attitude changes from “wanting to serve” to “having to serve.” We grumble and moan when we need to attend yet another meeting. Our work is never done, and we get very tired of it all. We fear that if we don’t say “yes” to every task that comes our way, we will disappoint God. We think if we don’t do everything than nothing will get done. This attitude can even lead us to think that our works make us more righteous, so we do as much as possible to become more right with God. We never enter His rest.

Our salvation is never dependent upon our works. God created the world and on the seventh day He rested because His work was finished, and it was good. The Sabbath was given to man so he could look toward the finished work of God and rejoice. Jesus gives us permission to stop and rest, to count our work finished for the day because He has already completed everything necessary for our salvation. We cannot earn the eternal life that we have been promised, it is not a reward for the good work we do. Our righteousness is founded in His love and His work on the cross, not in a schedule filled with commitments. No matter how hard we try there will always be tasks that need to be completed at home and in church. It is easy to be distracted by that work and to forget that God has given us this gift that means we can stop. It isn’t that important; the most important work we can do is to worship Him. The real work is the work of salvation which was made complete in the work of Jesus Christ. We can stop and enjoy the Sabbath knowing that the work is done resting in Him even when we feel like there is too much left to do.


October 31, 2022

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him, nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it.”

Each year I look forward to the Christmas season, to all the decorations that grace the facades of all the houses in our neighborhoods. There are even a few places we go out of the way to see. I have already been working on my plan for the year and have already purchased a few things we’ll need. I know, I always feel a little silly buying Christmas things before Halloween, but sometimes it is best to buy early before the stores are sold out. People love to decorate, and it seems the tradition has been extended for Halloween.

I don’t always decorate for Halloween, and when I do, I only do it for the day of trick or treat, but I have noted in the last few years how there are more and more people decorating their house for Halloween. There have always been a few who have created haunted houses or special experiences for the kids for trick-or-treat night, but it has become big business these days. Someone once reported that Halloween is second only to Christmas in spending, although an article from a few years ago showed that it hadn’t quite gotten that big. I suspect, however, that in the past year or so it has grown. The shelves are filled with more items than ever. Nearly half my neighbors have at least a blow-up character or a ghostie flying through their trees. Full size plastic skeletons used to be a specialty item that could only be found in a few places, but this year I saw them in my local grocery store.

The decorations for Halloween are so different than those for Christmas. Though they often include lights, it is a much darker time. Besides skeletons, the decorations often include witches and ghosts, gravestones and spiderwebs. One house I passed recently put up a temporary white picket fence around their yard with many cobwebs. The grassy area has been converted into a cemetery with a dozen or more gravestones. They have also placed a directional sign with arrows pointing to strange places. Though some houses include fun, bright colored pumpkin blow-ups or silly characters, Halloween is definitely a time when many are focused on death. There’s often a new slasher film in the theaters and many of the costumes are of zombies, murderous clowns, and even the grim reaper. While most people do not celebrate death, there seems to be a fascination with it.

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

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

After Halloween is over, we’ll see the character of the decorations around our neighborhoods change. Instead of death and darkness, we’ll see light and hope and peace. Isn’t that the reality of life, though? We are lost in darkness without God, but Jesus is the Light that gives us new life. We are dead in our sin, but we are made alive again by God’s mercy and grace. We walk like zombies until Jesus Christ gives us a place in His Kingdom where we can worship God for eternity. The Light that is Christ outshines the darkness of death.