Welcome to the September 2006 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






















Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.

A WORD FOR TODAY, September 2006

September 1, 2006

Scriptures for September 10, 2006: Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17; Mark 7:24-37

Psalm 146 Praise ye Jehovah. Praise Jehovah, O my soul. While I live will I praise Jehovah: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being. Put not your trust in princes, Nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; In that very day his thoughts perish. Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in Jehovah his God: Who made heaven and earth, The sea, and all that in them is; Who keepeth truth for ever; Who executeth justice for the oppressed; Who giveth food to the hungry. Jehovah looseth the prisoners; Jehovah openeth the eyes of the blind; Jehovah raiseth up them that are bowed down; Jehovah loveth the righteous; Jehovah preserveth the sojourners; He upholdeth the fatherless and widow; But the way of the wicked he turneth upside down. Jehovah will reign for ever, Thy God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise ye Jehovah.

We are busy people. Now, busy-ness is not always a bad thing. I often say I am busy, but the thing that is keeping me busy is something I enjoy very much. When I get in the middle of a craft project or a really good book, my time is taken up with doing those things. Of course, my kids are active with school and other things, so I am often busy as a chauffeur or as support. I'm busy taking care of the every day needs of my family – food, cleaning, laundry, shopping. I'm currently busy redecorating my library/den/office space. The busy in these tasks are not, in of themselves, very difficult, but it seems like I am constantly doing something. If I sit down to rest, I pick up a pencil to work on a puzzle or I read the newspaper.

We do not spend much time doing nothing. I suppose this is a good thing, because too much time spent doing nothing might be construed as sloth or laziness. However, our busy-ness keeps us from really resting. We do not take the time to simply sit and enjoy a sunset or listen to something our children have to say. Most importantly, we don't take time to pray.

I've often heard people talk about how they pray all the time. "I pray while I'm doing the dishes or driving the car." Those are perfectly wonderful practices. However, how many of us actually set aside our busy-ness to just sit and listen to God? How many of us enjoy a moment of nothing to enjoy the silence? We would much prefer have some sort of noise – like the television or radio – in the background to keep our minds active. If we even try to sit quietly, we feel guilty and begin thinking of all the things we should be doing.

It might not seem to be such a problem, but our busy-ness keeps us from God. With all the noise in our lives, we can't hear Him speak or recognize His presence in our lives. Sadly, the only time we really go to God these days is when we are asking for something. God is greatly blessed by our trusting prayers, our prayers that seek His aid in our troubles. However, there is so much more to our relationship with Him that we all too often miss. How often do we really just praise God? I know I praise Him when things are going well, but what about when things are just going? I know I trust in God to get me through the tough times, but do I really recognize that He is with me in my busy-ness?

The Psalm is bookended with a simple phrase – Hallelu Jah, Praise Jehovah. It is easy to praise God in the extreme moments of our lives – when we face great suffering or incredible blessing. It is much more difficult to remember to praise God in the midst of the ordinary. Sometimes we just have to say, "Praise the Lord." Thanks be to God.


September 4, 2006

WORD not posted due to the Labor Day holiday.

September 5, 2006


James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17 My brethren, hold not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come into your synagogue a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, and there come in also a poor man in vile clothing; and ye have regard to him that weareth the fine clothing, and say, Sit thou here in a good place; and ye say to the poor man, Stand thou there, or sit under my footstool; Do ye not make distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren; did not God choose them that are poor as to the world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he promised to them that love him? But ye have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you, and themselves drag you before the judgment-seats? Do not they blaspheme the honorable name by which ye are called? Howbeit if ye fulfil the royal law, according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well: but if ye have respect of persons, ye commit sin, being convicted by the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou dost not commit adultery, but killest, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as men that are to be judged by a law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to him that hath showed no mercy: mercy glorieth against judgment. What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but have not works? can that faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself.

There is a story told about a pastor who decided to give a very powerful sermon about our Christian responsibility to use our gifts for the benefit of those who need all that we have to offer. He dressed in old, dirty clothing, covered his head with a hat and disguised his appearance with a beard. He lay on the church steps while the congregation gathered for worship. He hoped that at least one of the members would do something for the stranger on their doorstep, but he was sorely disappointed. He overheard them grumbling about the dirty man on the steps. Some of the people pointedly spoke loud enough for the stranger to hear, calling him lazy and disgusting and unwelcome. The pastor was far more aware of the chit chat of his congregation, and he was disturbed to discover they were far too interested in one another's new clothes and material possessions than in hearts and lives. When everyone was seated, the pastor came in the front door. The congregation was shocked as he approached the pulpit. He took off his hat and his false beard.

In another story, the congregation was seating in their pews waiting for the service to begin. A young man in ripped jeans, t-shirt and much too long hair came in to the church. He walked down to the front of the worship space and plopped himself on the floor. The congregation was shocked that anyone would do such a thing, but no one dared say anything. As the pastor prepared to speak, an elderly man got up. With his cane, he slowly moved to the front of the church. Most of the congregation could understand why he would want to confront the young man. He was a long time member of the congregation. When he reached the young man, you could almost hear the members holding their breaths. Instead of chasing him away, the old man slowly sat on the floor, enjoying the worship with the young man so that he would not be alone.

What was the sermon given during worship in these two stories? It is said that the Gospel should be preached in a way that both comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. The first pastor was brokenhearted to discover how self-centered were the members his congregation. In the second story, the pastor began his sermon with the statement, "You won't remember a think I say in this sermon, but you will always remember what you have just seen."

In both these stories, the members of the congregation make judgments based on their perspective about the person they are meeting. I am not sure that outer appearances or individual worship practice is much of a problem for modern churches. As a matter of fact, many churches pride themselves in how open and welcoming they are to everyone. "Come as you are" is the mantra for so many congregations. Yet, James' words are still important for us today. We have our own biases. We still show favoritism to the detriment of those in need. All too often, our favoritism falls to those who are willing to give us exactly what we want. Of course, that's the same as James was dealing with – the fancy clothes indicate wealth, wealth can be used for our benefit. Poor people seemingly have nothing to offer. We would be very surprised to learn the great wealth they have if we only took time to see them through different eyes – the eyes of mercy.


September 6, 2006

Scriptures for September 10, 2006: Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17; Mark 7:24-37

Mark 7:24-37 And from thence he arose, and went away into the borders of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered into a house, and would have no man know it; and he could not be hid. But straightway a woman, whose little daughter had an unclean spirit, having heard of him, came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by race. And she besought him that he would cast forth the demon out of her daughter. And he said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it to the dogs. But she answered and saith unto him, Yea, Lord; even the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs. And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the demon is gone out of thy daughter. And she went away unto her house, and found the child laid upon the bed, and the demon gone out. And again he went out from the borders of Tyre, and came through Sidon unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the borders of Decapolis. And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to lay his hand upon him. And he took him aside from the multitude privately, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And his ears were opened, and the bond of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it. And they were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well; he maketh even the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.

The Old Testament lesson gives us a hint of what it might be like to be in the transforming presence of God. He will bring healing, freedom. He will make the blind see and the deaf hear. He will give walking legs to the lame and words to those who can't speak. All of creation will be transformed – the world will be brighter, cleaner, and fresher. The thirsty will have cool, clear water to drink. It will be a joyous time.

Our Gospel lesson shows us the fulfillment of the promises found in Isaiah. In this passage we see two examples of people being healed. First, a mother came to Jesus and showed Him that she believed Jesus could heal demon possessed daughter. Then a group of friends brought a deaf and dumb man to Jesus for healing. In neither case was there any mention of faith, yet in their act of approaching Jesus they believed that Jesus could do something. They received the answer to their request. Jesus brought transformation – healing and wholeness.

In the first story, the woman was far from the typical follower of Jesus. She was a foreigner, a pagan. She was a woman. It is unlikely that she would even feel comfortable talking to a man, particularly a Jewish man of such position. Yet, she sought Him out and interrupted a well-deserved and long needed moment of solitude with her request. His answer shocks us as we read Jesus calling this desperate woman a dog. There are a dozen different explanations for this – everything from Jesus pushing the woman to demonstrate her faith to Jesus being convinced to change His mind. Perhaps Mark's intent was to leave this open, because we need to see the different faces of Christ at different times in our lives.

The second story tells of a deaf and dumb man. Jesus follows a strange ritual and in the end the man can both hear and speak clearly. Even stranger in this story, however, is that Jesus tells the man not to tell anyone about what happened. He also told the man's friends. Yet, how can someone possibly keep silent when their tongue has been loosed? We don't know how long the man had suffered, and I'm sure there's a million things he wanted to say. He would now be able to say thank you to his friends, I love you to his family. He would be able to hear the same words. He would be able to do business, earn a living. Jesus transformed His life. Yet, with all these wonderful things to say and hear, the most important would be praise to God for this incredible gift. When you are transformed by the presence of God, how can you remain silent?


September 7, 2006

Scriptures for September 17, 2006: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 116:1-8 (116:1-9 NRSV); James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

Isaiah 50:4-9a The Lord Jehovah hath given me the tongue of them that are taught, that I may know how to sustain with words him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as they that are taught. The Lord Jehovah hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord Jehovah will help me; therefore have I not been confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He is near that justifieth me; who will content with me? let us stand up together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord Jehovah will help me; who is he that shall condemn me?

I worked in retail a number of years ago. I moved from being a cashier and floor clerk to the management training program. While I was in the program, I was an assistant manager, learning everything I needed to know from the senior store manager. It was a good program, very informative while also giving me the experience I needed to do my job well leading the people.

I always felt it was important to be an example to the employees. A retail store requires people to do all levels of work. We need people with accounting skills to take care of the money as well as people who can mop the floor and clean the bathrooms. We need people who can unload a truck or unpack a box. A well run store has people who can determine future needs, ordering the right amount of merchandise that will sell through each season. All these tasks are vital to the success of the store.

Sometimes it was necessary for the manager, or assistant manager to do be every-man. In other words, there were times when the janitor was not available to deal with an emergency, so I grabbed mop to clean up the mess. If the crowds were overwhelming the cashiers, we would jump on a register to help ease the load. If a truck with an extra large load showed up at the back door, we would lend a hand. A willingness to experience the hard work gave the management credibility. If some smart aleck kid refused a job saying, "You do it," I could easily answer, "I have; now it is your turn." There is nothing I didn't experience and the employees knew it. They also knew that I was the boss, and they had their own job to accomplish.

Our Old Testament lesson for this week is a servant song, a song spoken by one who has been chosen to bring hope to God's people. Some prophets were given a word of warning or a word of discipline. This prophet was given a word of hope – hope for those weary from living in the midst of suffering and pain. This servant knew what it meant to live in suffering. He not only received the gift of the word, but he also lived in the midst of pain. He was persecuted, humiliated, insulted. He was shamed, but without shame. Though he experienced this suffering, he never turned from his calling. He persevered through it, trusting that God was there with him.

Through the eyes of the cross, we see this song as sung by our Lord Jesus Christ. He was the suffering servant who was persecuted, humiliated and insulted. He was even crucified on the cross. Yet, He never wavered, standing firm on the word that had been given to Him. He spoke those comforting words to the people and those who had ears to hear – those whose ears had been wakened – found hope in the midst of their own suffering and pain. Thanks be to God.


September 8, 2006

Psalm 116:1-8 I love Jehovah, because he heareth my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. The cords of death compassed me, and the pains of Sheol gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of Jehovah: O Jehovah, I beseech thee, deliver my soul. Gracious is Jehovah, and righteous; Yea, our God is merciful. Jehovah preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he saved me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul; For Jehovah hath dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before Jehovah In the land of the living.

It sounds like this writer had some pretty bad problems. "The cords of death compassed me, the pains of Sheol gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow." I don't think I've ever felt so close to death and the grave that this psalmist feels. It is as if he's got one foot in the grave. We do not know anything about the author, though the language seems to be similar to that of David. It is probably written by a king. Perhaps the king of the nation was facing a time of war or siege, when everything they knew and loved faced destruction.

The psalmist writes, "I love Jehovah, because he heareth my voice and my supplications." This does not seem like a very good reason to love God. First of all, how would he know that that God hears unless there was an answer to the prayers? Should we love God only because of what He can and does do for us? That seems rather self centered and selfish. Yet, it is a very human response to God's gracious mercy. Who are the people with whom we truly enjoy spending time? They are the ones who listen to us. Even if they have no answer to the problem or no possible way of fixing whatever is wrong, we appreciate their compassionate presence and listening ears.

We need not be so cynical about the attitude of the psalmist, here. The love of Jehovah comes not only because the prayers are answered. It is manifest because God is there – present and listening. God has never promised that we would not suffer or face difficult times. However, He has always promised to be near those who love Him and that He will listen to those who cry out to Him.

The Psalm follows a pattern. First the psalmist praises the Lord, in this case for listening. Then the psalmist describes his difficulty. Finally the psalmist speaks words of thanksgiving and praise. This is a powerful pattern for us to follow when we pray – to begin with a hope-filled prayer, praising God for His compassionate mercy. This is based on faith and trust that God is present and that He hears, even if we have not seen evidence of that presence. We know by His promises that He is near and we trust that He hears our cries. Once we worship Him and acknowledge His presence, then we approach Him with our needs. Finally, we sing thanks and praise to God for His mercy.

The psalmist talks of death, yet it is not necessarily the physical death of his body. We all face death throughout our lives. Broken relationships, unemployment, illness and other difficulties can be seen as deaths. Death can happen when something about our circumstances change and impacts our life. When we are disappointed or when we have to leave something behind, it is like our hopes and relationships have died. It is then, especially, that we cry out to the God we know is present and listening to our voice in praise, supplication and thanksgiving. For God hears our cry and delivers us from death by His mercy and His grace. Thanks be to God.

September 11, 2006

Scriptures for September 17, 2006: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 116:1-8 (116:1-9 NRSV); James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

James 3:1-12 Be not many of you teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment. For in many things we all stumble. If any stumbleth not in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. Now if we put the horses' bridles into their mouths that they may obey us, we turn about their whole body also. Behold, the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by rough winds, are yet turned about by a very small rudder, whither the impulse of the steersman willeth. So the tongue also is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how much wood is kindled by how small a fire! And the tongue is a fire: the world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the wheel of nature, and is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beasts and birds, of creeping things and things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed by mankind. But the tongue can no man tame; it is a restless evil, it is full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we the Lord and Father; and therewith curse we men, who are made after the likeness of God: out of the same mouth cometh forth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth the fountain send forth from the same opening sweet water and bitter? Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a vine figs? Neither can salt water yield sweet.

I went to college to become an elementary school teacher. I did fairly well in the classes, excelling in tasks like lesson planning and resource preparation. I had long lists of good children's books and a collection of ideas that would make any elementary school child's day fun and educational. Where I failed was in the classroom.

I had a wonderful teacher when I as a student teacher – perhaps too wonderful. She was perfect in every way, or at least it seemed like she was perfect. The children listened to her; she never once had to raise her voice. Though she had a difficult and extremely diverse class, she was able to impact each of their lives – even the children for whom English was a second language.

I may have done better in another classroom, but it was good for me to see myself in that environment. It helped me to my virtues and my faults. I was able to accomplish many of the tasks the teacher assigned to me throughout my time in her classroom. Unfortunately, I was unable to handle the most important thing – teaching the children. All too often, my frustration set my nerves on edge and I reacted by raising my voice. One of the things the teacher constantly brought up during our reviews was my language. She pointed out my raised voice and the words I used. I often resorted to the phrase "shut up" in my effort to get the children to listen. "Shut up" does not help the situation and yelling is even less helpful. My attitude made the children respond negatively, rather than positively. Instead of getting quiet, they got louder. Instead of listening, they turned on their neighbor.

There is a modern day proverb that says, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." This is often taken to mean that everyone should do everything in their power to make Mama happy. If we keep Mama in a good mood, she'll do the things that make our life satisfying and comfortable. However, if Mama ain't happy, she'll make our life a living nightmare.

I have learned to turn around the meaning of that proverb. Instead of being informative to everyone else, it is informative to me. If I'm not happy, the atmosphere around me will be unhappy. My attitude affects the world in which I live. So, if I make a willful attempt to be happy, under any circumstance, those around me will feel comfortable and satisfied. If, when I as student teaching, I had followed the example of my teacher, I might have had a much different impact on the children in my classroom. If I'd been quiet and encouraging, rather than loud and angry, the whole class might have turned around.

I still fail. I still whip out that "shut up" phrase occasionally, but I'm getting better. I'm more likely to take a breath first, to think about what I am going to say. I'm more likely to stop and hold my tongue to respond with self-control. James writes, "out of the same mouth cometh forth blessing and cursing." While this is true for all of us who are both saints and sinners, it is not how we are called to live. I did use language in that classroom that was unhelpful and disturbing. Yet in the years that have passed since that time, I have also been able to have a very positive impact on the lives of children – including my own. It is much better for us to live in a way that brings forth blessing from our mouth than cursing. The world around us will even seem better. Thanks be to God.


September 12, 2006

Scriptures for September 17, 2006: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 116:1-8 (116:1-9 NRSV); James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

Mark 8:27-38 And Jesus went forth, and his disciples, into the villages of Caesarea Philippi: and on the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Who do men say that I am? And they told him, saying, John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but others, One of the prophets. And he asked them, But who say ye that I am? Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ. And he charged them that they should tell no man of him. And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake the saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But he turning about, and seeing his disciples, rebuked Peter, and saith, Get thee behind me, Satan; for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men. And he called unto him the multitude with his disciples, and said unto them, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's shall save it. For what doth it profit a man, to gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? For what should a man give in exchange for his life? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man also shall be ashamed of him, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

Obviously people were talking about Jesus. When He asked His disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" they had plenty of answers. The answers included John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets. It would have been hard for the people to confuse Jesus with John the Baptist, since they lived at the same time and even met John at the River Jordan to be baptized. Luke even tells us that John and Jesus were related – their mothers were related. Elijah is a more practical answer. The Jews expected (and still expect) Elijah to return to announce the coming of the Messiah. In Mark's version of the Gospel, Jesus identifies John the Baptist as Elijah shortly after the story we read this week.

Finally, some thought Jesus was one of the prophets. Yet, this question was not so much about Jesus' identity – obviously He could not be John the Baptist – but rather about His authority and His position. Some folk saw Him as taking over the ministry of John the Baptist. Others saw Him as one of the prophets. The prophets were sent by God to give warning and hope to the people. So, was Jesus the new leader, the promised herald or just another prophet through whom God would speak to His people?

Jesus made the question more personal. "Who do you say that I am?" He was talking to the disciples, but Peter answered for them all. "You are the Messiah." The disciples knew that Jesus was the one for whom they were waiting. They knew He was the fulfillment to the promises. Yet, even they were unsure what this meant. This is why Jesus told them not to tell anyone. The expectation for the Messiah was that he would come and save the people from their oppressors and restore the nation of Israel. This is not what God had in mind.

The disciples were likely to be in the crowds during discussions about the identity of Jesus. They would hear more people talking about their expectations, but now they had the answer. It is very typical of human nature to want to get in on such conversations when you have something important to add. What an impact they could have if they could direct the conversation with this piece of information. However, Jesus knew how the people would react. It would be much like when they saw Him feed the five thousand – they would want to make Him king. This was not what God had in mind.

Jesus began to teach them. "The Messiah has to suffer and die." Though He has made some indirect references to suffering, this is the first time that He talks about His death. Peter, who had just confessed faith in Jesus as the Messiah, took Him aside and rebuked Him for such talk. Out of Peter's mouth came both blessing and cursing. The blessing was the good word he spoke about Jesus' position and authority; the cursing was the voice of Satan trying to tempt Jesus away from His true purpose in this world.

After Jesus faced the temptations in the wilderness, Luke tells us that the devil left him until an opportune time. Now was that time. In the wilderness, Satan tried to get Jesus to focus on all the wrong things – secular power, fame and social ministry. Jesus said, "No." While He did provide for us an excellent example of how to deal with secular power, fame and social ministry, His purpose was much greater – to suffer and to die. Here, once again, Satan tries to turn Jesus' from His purpose.

We would really like to make our focus of Jesus' purpose to be about changing the world, about healing and about justice. It is good, right and true for us to go into the world and do these things. Yet, it is not enough. For salvation, for true hope in this world, it is necessary for us to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior who died on the cross. He calls us to live in the shadow of the cross, to suffer for His sake and for the sake of the world. Peter did not want Jesus to perish, because if He did then everything they did would be in vain. However, Jesus had a greater purpose – salvation, and not salvation in just physical or material terms. Jesus came to save the world and He calls us to proclaim this to all the people.


September 13, 2006

Scriptures for September 17, 2006: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 116:1-8 (116:1-9 NRSV); James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

But who say ye that I am? Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ.

The focus of the scriptures this week seems to be on the mouth – on the words we speak. In Isaiah, the writer says, "The Lord Jehovah hath given me the tongue of them that are taught, that I may know how to sustain with words him that is weary." The psalmist says, "I called on the name of the Lord." James reminds us that we are able to bless and to curse with the same mouth and that we will be judged accordingly, so we ought to be wary of becoming teachers. Finally, we see Peter proclaiming Jesus as Messiah then turning to rebuke Jesus for describing the work He has to do. Peter both blessed and cursed Jesus in a matter of minutes.

Our words matter. We might learn that old song, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me." Yet, words do hurt. Words cause broken relationships. Words condemn people. Words lead people down the wrong, and perhaps a destructive path. When we speak, but even moreso when we teach, we give people words that might even change their lives. We might give them encouragement, direction and knowledge. But our words can cause discouragement and guide them in the wrong direction. Our words can impart false or wrong knowledge.

There is a rather famous novel available that many people have taken to include a number of shocking truths about the Church and its history. Though this is fiction – a rather good mystery at that – the 'facts' found within have been proven false by dozens of authors who have published books in response to this novel. This may not have been necessary if everyone accepted the book as fiction, however many people gave its 'facts' legitimacy. I even attended a function where the guest speaker quoted the book extensively in order to convince a room full of Christian women that they should follow a different religious path.

Our words matter. Every word we write and every word we speak can have an impact, even if it is just a seed planted. A parent that yells or a teacher that responds in anger may not directly or immediately affect a child, but repeated negative comments can bring about change. See how easily peer pressure can lead a teenager into dangerous decisions.

Yet, Peter and the disciples were called to be teachers and they did as Jesus commanded them to do. We should not cringe at speaking as God calls and guides us, always remembering that He is always by our side. There are times when speaking the truth might be dangerous. It might be politically incorrect. It might go against the popular consensus of the day or stand diametrically opposed to societal expectations. It might even take us to a cross. Yet, we are called by faith to confess that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, to take up whatever cross we may face and follow Jesus, blessing and not cursing so that our lives will bear good fruit to the glory of God.


September 14, 2006

Scriptures for September 24, 2006: Jeremiah 11:18-20 or Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12:22; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37

Jeremiah 11:18-20 And Jehovah gave me knowledge of it, and I knew it: then thou showedst me their doings. But I was like a gentle lamb that is led to the slaughter; and I knew not that they had devised devices against me, saying, Let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name may be no more remembered. But, O Jehovah of hosts, who judgest righteously, who triest the heart and the mind, I shall see thy vengeance on them; for unto thee have I revealed my cause.

"Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die" is an attitude by which many people live. This was true of the people for whom the Book of Wisdom was written – Hellenized Jews in Alexandria. The Jews there were torn between the life of faith and the tempting cultural life in Alexandria. It was exciting to live there, with fascinating mystery religions, cults, astrology and other interesting religious perspectives. Who wouldn't want to live by the doctrine, "Eat, drink and be merry"? It is better than a life of servanthood and of suffering.

In such a society, the righteous person is the one most likely to be targeted by the schemes of the wicked. They are the outsiders, the ones unwilling to go along with the crowd. The faithful, those who willingly submit to a life of servanthood, are seen as weak and they are inconvenient to the life the wicked want to live. They are both the doormats and the stumbling blocks in this world. The writer of the Book of Wisdom says, "He became to us a reproof of out thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others and his ways are strange." It is for this very reason that the righteous become the victims of the wicked.

Jeremiah was facing persecution. His words fell on unwilling ears and his expectations were unwelcome. He was opposed on every side; even his family was against him. His words brought the wrath of the leaders on his head, but they also had the potential of destroying his family. They would suffer the wrath also. So, his family schemed to destroy him, to stop his words to protect their lives. The Lord made this conspiracy known to Jeremiah.

This brief passage from Jeremiah is a personal lament by the prophet over the suffering he faces. It is difficult enough to face persecution when it comes from the world and from the powerful. However, it is even more difficult when it comes from your own family. Jeremiah is honest with God. He is hurt and angry, so he asks God for vengeance. This is not really the way we should be dealing with our enemies. As a matter of fact, through out Christian perspective we are called to love our enemies and to face the persecution with trust and faith. Isn't it too much to ask for a little vengeance?

Yet, in these words we see a deep trust in God. The trust is not necessarily that God will hear and answer our prayer as we might ask, but that God is big enough to listen even to our ranting and our anger. Jeremiah trusted God enough to be honest with Him, to speak the words that he felt and to admit his desires. This display of anger and lament did not bring God's wrath on Jeremiah, but rather His mercy and grace.

The early Christians, when faced with the kind of persecution that we see in Jeremiah's life, held on to these words as they tried to understand their suffering. They too had faith enough in God to speak of their fears and their anger, knowing that God is bigger than their human failings. He gives strength to those who call Him, even when the cry is one of anger and lament. He lifts us up and brings us through out troubles, forgiving our frailty and giving us the grace to go on. Thanks be to God.


September 15, 2006

Scriptures for September 24, 2006: Jeremiah 11:18-20 or Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12:22; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37

Psalm 54 Save me, O God, by thy name, And judge me in thy might. Hear my prayer, O God; Give ear to the words of my mouth. For strangers are risen up against me, And violent men have sought after my soul: They have not set God before them. Selah Behold, God is my helper: The Lord is of them that uphold my soul. He will requite the evil unto mine enemies: Destroy thou them in thy truth. With a freewill-offering will I sacrifice unto thee: I will give thanks unto thy name, O Jehovah, for it is good. For he hath delivered me out of all trouble; And mine eye hath seen my desire upon mine enemies.

Matthew Henry tells us that the key to this psalm rests in the title. "For the Chief Musician; on stringed instruments. Maschil of David; when the Ziphites came and said to Saul, Doth not David hide himself with us?" The Ziphites were traitors, men who turned David over to Saul, whose intent was to kill David. Saul knew that David was God's intended king, but he thought that if David were dead he might be able to hold on to his reign. He relied on men like the Ziphites to betray David.

David was experiencing much the same thing as Jeremiah, facing persecution and threats from people who were close. David was hiding among these people, which means he must have trusted them to protect him. In the midst of such betrayal, David was able to lift his voice to God, crying out for salvation from his enemies.

David sings, "Save me, O God, by thy name." We all know name droppers, and perhaps do a little name dropping ourselves. Knowing the right people can get us a better table at a fancy restaurant or it can get us free ice cream at the local grocery store. Knowing the right people can get a road fixed more quickly or it can get a child into a better school. We rely on the clout that comes from the right now when we are job hunting or when we are making a major purchase. My Dad was once able to get me a better deal on a car and a friend once got me a discount on an electronics purchase; all I needed was their name.

The name of the Lord is the manifestation of His character and accessibility to His people. We cry out to Him by His name and He hears our prayers. In the psalm we once again hear a cry for vindication. David asks God to judge him according to His own strength – the strength of God – not according to the strength of David's life or importance. Vindication will come not because David has done anything particularly important but because David is the chosen one of God. Vindication will come not to the glory of David, but to the glory of God.

David trusts that God is his helper. In this psalm David begins with a cry for help, then a confession of trust in God, and finishes with a vow to offer thanksgiving and praise. David is confident that God will save him from his enemies. He comforts himself in the knowledge that God is faithful to His promises. We can do the same thing. When we face persecution, we too can cry out to God with our worries and fears. Like David, we can do so with the assurance that God hears our prayers and is our helper.


September 18, 2006

Scriptures for September 24, 2006: Jeremiah 11:18-20 or Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12:22; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a Who is wise and understanding among you? let him show by his good life his works in meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter jealousy and faction in your heart, glory not and lie not against the truth. This wisdom is not a wisdom that cometh down from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where jealousy and faction are, there is confusion and every vile deed. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without variance, without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for them that make peace. Whence come wars and whence come fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your pleasures that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and covet, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war; ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may spend it in your pleasures… Be subject therefore unto God; but resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.

This joke is popular among rabbis "There was a man who went to his Rabbi for advice on how he could win the state lottery. He was in dire need of money and that windfall was in necessity to him. The Rabbi gave him some advice and told him to start praying once a day. The man went home and followed the advice. Ten years later he had still not won the lottery. He went back to the Rabbi and this time the Rabbi told him to pray twice a day. The man went home and followed the advice and another ten years went by and he still hadn't won the lottery. Once again, he returned to the Rabbi and in desperation he promised to do anything to win. The Rabbi, a bit puzzled himself, advised him to pray three times a day. The man returned home and began to pray fervently three times a day, awakening the angels in heaven who in response to these heartfelt words of pleading by this human being beseech G-d to help this poor man. God looks at his angels and He Himself looked quite sad as he said, 'I wish I could fulfill his request as he is definitely deserving; if only he would go out and buy a lottery ticket!'"

I will admit that I have wished for a lottery win. I don't often buy a ticket; I usually wait until the jackpot hits record-breaking amounts. I will also admit that I've prayed for the lottery win, with a promise to give God a good portion of the proceeds through charity or the church. Finally, I will admit that my thoughts have turned to the lottery during those times in my life when I am worried about finances, as if winning the lottery will solve all my problems. Yet, those times when finances are worrisome are the very moments when I should not be wasting my funds on gambling and uncertainty.

If you listen to the stories of lottery winners, however, you will find that it is rarely the solution to their troubles. As a matter of fact, things often get worse. Everyone comes knocking for a handout and will do anything from pleading, to threats, to manipulation, to make it happen. Many people who win the lottery lose it within eighteen months. A million dollars sounds like a great deal of money until you start buying cars and houses and the best of everything. It doesn't take long to use up a million dollars when you treat your friends to fancy dinners every week.

When we hear about someone who has won the lottery, we wonder what they did to win. Did they pick special numbers? Did they buy the ticket at a certain time or in a certain place? We wonder what we can do to have the same kind of luck. We think about praying, recalling Jesus' words in the scriptures that we need only ask and we will receive. When we find that nothing works – that the wisdom of the winners is useless – we become discouraged and even jealous.

James reminds us, however, that we ask wrongly. Even when we promise to God that we will use the winnings to His glory, don't we also have other plans in our mind? We might give ten percent or more to the church, but we are also thinking about that new car or the two month cruise we want to take. If we do win, we quickly become cynical of those seeking aid because we see the lengths to which they are willing to go to get what they want. This kind of prayer is self-serving and they create walls between people. We are called to live according to the wisdom of Christ rather than that of the world, the kind of wisdom that considers what is best for all – for the community, for your neighbors, for your family. In that wisdom we'll know what it is for which we should be asking, because it will be according to the heart and wisdom of God. Thanks be to God.


September 19, 2006

Scriptures for September 24, 2006: Jeremiah 11:18-20 or Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12:22; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37

Mark 9:30-37 And they went forth from thence, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it. For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered up into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he shall rise again. But they understood not the saying, and were afraid to ask him. And they came to Capernaum: and when he was in the house he asked them, What were ye reasoning on the way? But they held their peace: for they had disputed one with another on the way, who was the greatest. And he sat down, and called the twelve; and he saith unto them, If any man would be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all. And he took a little child, and set him in the midst of them: and taking him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such little children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever receiveth me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.

They were afraid to ask Jesus what He meant when He said that He would be delivered to the hands of men, killed and after three days rise again. They didn't want to know. It is so much better to be ignorant, to be blind to the troubles that surround us. A great many people within the church refuse to become involved – to be leaders, to join the council, to attend meetings – because they simply don't want to know. Perhaps they've been there before, and they have learned the hard way what goes on behind the scenes and behind closed doors. Perhaps they've been hurt at another church. Whatever the reason, they do not want to know.

They also did not want Jesus to know what about their conversation. Was it because they were embarrassed by the immaturity of the conversation? Were they beginning to understand what Jesus was trying to share – that being part of the kingdom of God meant sacrifice and self-giving? They did not want Jesus to know that they were arguing over which one of them is most important. In other similar stories, they want Jesus to tell them who will lead at His side. Who will be the CEO? Who will be the General? Who will be the boss? They want to know and understand the hierarchy of the ministry. But they don't want Jesus to know that they are asking this question.

The Gospel lesson for this Sunday has a wonderful message about what it means to be 'great' in the kingdom of God. Jesus Christ, our Lord and King, did not rule over us as is expected in the world. He was a humble servant to His disciples, even doing the most mundane tasks for them such as washing their feet. On this particular journey, the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest among them. When Jesus asked what they were discussing, the disciples were embarrassed to tell Him. He sat down and explained that greatness in the kingdom of heaven was not as it is in the world where the rulers seek fame, power and possessions. In the kingdom of heaven, the least are the greatest. Welcoming a little child is like welcoming God Himself, and if they want to be first they must be the last and servant of all.

How odd it is that the disciples keep quiet when it comes to trying to understand what Jesus truly wants them to know, but they are very vocal when they are thinking in their own terms, according to their own wisdom. Well, perhaps it isn't so odd after all, since we all have a skewed idea of what makes a truly wise person. We think in terms of flesh, earth, natural things. Jesus wants us to see something greater, something beyond ourselves.


September 20, 2006

No WORD posted.


September 21, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, October 1, 2006: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Psalm 19:7-14; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29And the mixed multitude that was among them lusted exceedingly: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt for nought; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic: but now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all save this manna to look upon... And Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, every man at the door of his tent: and the anger of Jehovah was kindled greatly; and Moses was displeased. And Moses said unto Jehovah, Wherefore hast thou dealt ill with thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favor in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me? Have I conceived all this people? have I brought them forth, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing-father carrieth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers? Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat. I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favor in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness. And Jehovah said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with thee... And Moses went out, and told the people the words of Jehovah: and he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the Tent. And Jehovah came down in the cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and put it upon the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but they did so no more. But there remained two men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the Spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but had not gone out unto the Tent; and they prophesied in the camp. And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp. And Joshua the son of Nun, the minister of Moses, one of his chosen men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him, Art thou jealous for my sake? would that all Jehovah's people were prophets, that Jehovah would put his Spirit upon them!

There is an ancient Jewish folktale about two beggars and a king. Each day the two beggars went to the king’s palace to ask for food, and each day the king gave them both a loaf of bread. The first beggar thanked the king for the bread, the second thanked God for making the king wealthy enough to be charitable. The king was upset that the second beggar never thanked him for the bread.

One day the king decided to punish the second beggar for his ungratefulness. He ordered the baker to fill one loaf of bread with valuable jewels and to give it specifically to the first beggar. “That will teach the beggar a lesson.” The baker was extremely careful to give the right loaf to each beggar – the one filled with jewels to the first beggar, the loaf only to the second. When the first beggar felt the weight of the loaf, he thought there was something wrong with it and asked the other beggar to exchange loaves. The second beggar, always desirous to help a friend agreed. Later, when he ate the loaf, he discovered the jewels.

The next day only the first beggar appeared at the gate of the king. The king asked the baker if he gave the right loaf, and the baker assured him that he did. Then the king asked the beggar what happened to the loaf that he’d been given. He told the king that it felt hard and poorly baked, so he gave it to his friend. Through this experience the king realized that all good things truly come through God. Only God can change the circumstances of men. Not even a king can change God’s will.

In this Old Testament lesson, Moses complains to God that the people are ungrateful and complaining about their circumstances. “Why have you done this to me?” he cried out to God. “You have made them a burden I can not carry.” So, God agrees to appoint helpers – seventy elders to help carry the burden of leadership. However, when God anointed the seventy with the spirit, they prophesied only once. There were two other men, who had remained in the camp, over whom the spirit also fell. They also prophesied.

A young boy heard the prophesying; he went to Moses and told him about the two in the camp. When Joshua heard about this, he told Moses to go stop them – they weren’t among the chosen. But Moses knew that God was in control. He couldn’t stop someone that was given the spirit any more than he could choose those who would receive it. “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!”

We are reminded that God knows the deepest parts of our hearts and the most hidden secrets of our lives. He knows most about us than we do. He knows His will and His purpose and His plan. We don’t always understand, and we tend to complain about the gifts that have been given to us. We try to make things better – like the beggar who wanted what he thought was the better loaf of bread and the Israelites who wanted more than manna. Yet, in the end we discover that what God has planned is quite possibly the most miraculous thing that could happen. We are reminded that it is to God we can and should be grateful, for He is the source of all things good. Thanks be to God.


September 22, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, October 1, 2006: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Psalm 19:7-14; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

Psalm 19:7-14 The law of Jehovah is perfect, restoring the soul: The testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of Jehovah are right, rejoicing the heart: The commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of Jehovah is clean, enduring for ever: The ordinances of Jehovah are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the droppings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: In keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Clear thou me from hidden faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me: Then shall I be upright, and I shall be clear from great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Jehovah, my rock, and my redeemer.

When we lived in England, the children learned a very valuable lesson. It was taught in three simple words. “Stop, Look and Listen.” These were the words they were taught to remember every time they wanted to cross a road. They were first to stop – we should never just run into the road since we do not know what might be coming our way. A car traveling at even slow speeds can do damage to a person’s body. After stopping, the children were taught to look. They were to look both ways, no matter what the circumstances. You never know what might be coming from either direction – even if it is a one way road. Some might be backing up, someone might be going the wrong way.

Stop and look, they were told. They were also taught to listen. This is perhaps the most important, and hardest, thing to remember. They were to listen in case something was coming outside the line of sight driving much too fast. If you can’t see them, they can’t see you, and are most likely going much to fast to stop in time when they do. Stop, look and listen.

We learned those three simple rules for crossing the street, but they are certainly appropriate for other activities – particularly speech. There are too many times I wish I had stopped, looked and listened before I spoke. How often do we rush to judgment, cry out in anger or irritation, not stopping to see the situation fully or listen to the truth? Then, when it is all over, we regret the words we have spoken, words that are often impossible to take back.

I know many pastors begin their sermons with the final verse of today’s psalm. To some it may seem rather cliché. Yet, these are important words for us to remember. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Jehovah, my rock, and my redeemer.” Do we really mean these words or are they simply rote, words that sound good as an introduction to a message?

These are words we should take to heart every moment we intend to speak, whether it is when we are preaching a sermon to a congregation or dealing with an out of control teenager. These are words that should be written on our hearts and in our minds, so that we will always stop, look and listen before we speak. When we stop, look and listen, God has a chance to speak to us first, to give us the direction we need to speak and do what is acceptable in His sight.

The psalmist, David, describes the law of God in six different ways. The versions use slightly different words, but according to American Standard, as used here, the six are law, testament, precepts, commandment, the fear and ordinances. These words, as listed, do not give much hope to a person, however, David saw God’s law in a much different way. It restores the soul, makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart and enlightens the eyes. The fear of Jehovah endures forever and this law is true. It is more precious than gold, sweeter than honey. “Moreover by them is thy servant warned: In keeping them there is great reward.” For though law reveals hidden things – sin – God’s grace reveals something even greater – forgiveness. Are there other words that could fit into this psalm? Do they reveal something frightening, or do they manifest God’s amazing grace?


September 25, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, October 1, 2006: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Psalm 19:7-14; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

James 5:13-20 Is any among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him. Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working. Elijah was a man of like passions with us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth for three years and six months. And he prayed again; and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit. My brethren, if any among you err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he who converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins.

Debra (Raymond’s wife) and Marie (Raymond’s mother) have an interesting relationship on the television show “Everyone Loves Raymond.” It is interesting because it is the stereotypical in-law relationship, rife with conflict embedded in humorous situations. Marie constantly points out Debra’s faults while Debra does much of the same. The difference between the two is that Marie will point out the faults to Debra’s face. Debra usually holds her tongue until out of earshot and then she lays it all on Raymond.

I suppose a person can only take so much before they explode. On one episode, Debra finally had enough of Marie’s constant criticism, so she returned the favor. Debra began pointing out Marie’s faults. Marie took the criticism hard and asked why Debra hated her. Debra responded, “I was just trying to help you the way you help me.” Marie answered that her help was truly helpful while Debra’s was just hurtful.

Criticism can be good and it can be bad. An editor can make valid and helpful comments about a writer’s work. The comments can be received as either criticism or suggestion. If the person receives the comments personally – as if the editor is humiliating the author – the comments will be seen as criticism and the response will be negative. If the writer receives the comments as a learning moment, as a chance to make things better, the response will be entirely positive.

James gives us three life situations and the appropriate Christian response. What should we do in the midst of suffering? We should pray and praise. Though it is hard to praise God while we are facing difficult situations, we will find blessing in the midst of it if we keep our eyes on God. What should we do when we face illness and dis-ease? We should seek the healing and forgiving power of God that is found in the church through the authorities anointed and appointed to do the work.

Finally, what should we do about error? We are called to bring light to the truth, to point out the errors and sins of our brethren. However, how we do so will make a difference. Will we present these words in a tone of criticism or an act of grace? Will we speak in a way that admonishes and restores people, or will we do it in a manner of condemnation and alienation.

Debra and Marie both make valid points about the actions and attitudes of the other, yet they do not do it in a manner that brings about transformation. God calls us into fellowship together to help one another grow and mature in faith.


September 26, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, October 1, 2006: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Psalm 19:7-14; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

Mark 9:38-50 John said unto him, Teacher, we saw one casting out demons in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followed not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man who shall do a mighty work in my name, and be able quickly to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink, because ye are Christ's, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward. And whosoever shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it were better for him if a great millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. And if thy hand cause thee to stumble, cut it off: it is good for thee to enter into life maimed, rather than having thy two hands to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire. where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot cause thee to stumble, cut it off: it is good for thee to enter into life halt, rather than having thy two feet to be cast into hell. where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye cause thee to stumble, cast it out: it is good for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. For every one shall be salted with fire. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost its saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another.

Jesus makes some shocking suggestions in today’s lesson. Does He really expect us to cut off our hand or our foot, or gouge out our eyes? I would expect that He is not asking us to go around amputating our body parts for the sake of some spiritual transformation. Instead, He is using some extreme examples of what it means to turn our life around for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It isn’t easy. As a matter of fact, it is very hard. It might even hurt.

Take the experience of John in this lesson. John was part of Jesus’ inner circle. He was even somewhat concerned about his future in the ministry. John was probably one of the most adamant last week when the disciples were discussing the least and the greatest. He’s on record elsewhere in the Gospels seeking to be Jesus’ right hand man.

The Gospels also tell us that the disciples were often inadequate at doing the miraculous things Jesus was doing – and that Jesus was telling them to do. They saw success in ministry, but they also saw failure. We did not hear the verses in this series of readings from Mark, but earlier in this chapter the disciples were unable to exorcise a demon from a little boy. They must have felt humbled and humiliated.

Then they saw someone who was not part of their circle doing what they were unable to do – drive out demons. I can imagine what they were feeling. I have felt it myself. It is called jealousy and it is quite a powerful emotion when it comes to our work in God’s kingdom – particularly when we are passionate. When we see someone else able to do what we can’t seem to accomplish, we wonder “why me? We wonder why God would call us to a position and not give us the ability to do the work. We wonder if we have properly discerned our calling. And we wish others couldn’t do it.

It is hard to deal with jealousy. It forces us to look at ourselves with a humble heart and at others with grace. It forces us to see other people through God’s eyes, to see that they too have been gifted with power and authority, even if they are not part of our crowd. It forces us to realize that we are not the most important thing in God’s plan. Jealousy makes us bitter, and bitter salt does not provide flavor or preservation to the food. So, Jesus tells us to cut it out of our life.


September 27, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, October 1, 2006: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Psalm 19:7-14; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

For every one shall be salted with fire. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost its saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another.

Imagine what it would be like if someone told you that they wanted to pay you for a day’s worth of work with salt. Since table salt is relatively inexpensive, it would take a great quantity for us to think we have received our just reward. Where would you put all that salt? How would you use it all? This is especially true in this day, when doctors agree that too much salt is dangerous for our health.

Salt was in use in ancient times, but it was much more valuable because it was much less available. The Phoenicians were the first to harvest salt from the sea, flooding the plains with saltwater and allowing it to dry. Then the salt was harvested and sold to other nations. Such production helped to depreciate the value of salt. In the United States, the difficulty with salt production was not finding the salt, but transporting it from place to place. Morton Salt solved this problem by having salt plants all over the nation.

However, in Jesus’ day it was worth a great deal of money, perhaps even more than gold. Soldiers were paid in salt and slaves were traded for salt. This is why we have phrases such as “salt money” and “he is not worth his weight in salt.” Salt was used for flavor, but even more so it was used as a preservative and to seal covenants. If salt was used during a meal, it represented a relationship of loyalty, protection and hospitality. As a matter of fact, the ancient Greeks had a saying that “no one should trust a man without first eating a peck of salt with him.” A peck is a lot of salt (about 8 quarts.) By the time two men ate that much salt, they would know each other very well.

When Jesus says to the disciples, “Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another” He is referring to the salt covenant. They are the salt, “salted with fire” by God. Through them, God is revealing His kingdom to the world, and through them He is establishing the covenant of loyalty, protection and hospitality. “But if salt has lost its saltiness,” Jesus says, if salt has lost its saltiness then we can’t do what we are called to do. And if we do not live at peace with one another, how can we possibly share the peace of Christ with the world?

Our scriptures this week cause us to consider how we determine who had the power and authority to do the work of the kingdom in this world. All too often we are quick to point fingers, like Joshua and John, at those who are outside our circle, complaining that they should not be able to prophesy or heal because they do not stand in the right relationship with God. “Lord, stop them” we say. Yet, we have to consider what it is that makes us question their gifts. There might be a valid reason for rebuke or correction. Yet, if they are doing the work in Jesus’ name, as Jesus has commanded, might there be another reason for our irritation? Are we jealous because they are doing things we can’t do? Are we frustrated because they stand outside our understanding of God? Are we offended because they do not fit into the mould we have established? This is what we should cut out of our lives or else our salt will lose its saltiness and there will be no peace.


September 28, 2006

Scriptures for October 8, 2006: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 8; Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

Genesis 2:18-24 And Jehovah God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him. And out of the ground Jehovah God formed every beast of the field, and every bird of the heavens; and brought them unto the man to see what he would call them: and whatsoever the man called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And the man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the heavens, and to every beast of the field; but for man there was not found a help meet for him. And Jehovah God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof: and the rib, which Jehovah God had taken from the man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And the man said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? This is a question that many people have pondered from the beginning of time. Whether they are seeking philosophical, scientific or theological answers, the question is still the same. Which came first? A deeper, perhaps more relevant question might be related to the beginnings of human existence. From a biblical standpoint, we assume that Adam and Eve were adults when they were created, mature enough to both marry and have children.

Today’s lesson from Genesis is the second telling of the same story – the story about the beginning. In Genesis chapter one, God creates everything and we see the chronological story of life, from the creation of light and dark to the foundations of the earth to the birds, fish and then the animals. Finally, we see the creation of man and woman.

There are those who might claim that the second chapter of Genesis tells a completely different story. After all, in that story we see that Man exists to name the animals. However, in the second story we are not hearing a chronological story, but rather a story about relationships. First of all we see the relationship between God and Man. Then we see the relationship between Man and creation. Finally we see the relationship between Man and Woman.

As we can see in this story, there is no egg first – instead Man and Woman were created in the image of God, then they joined together as man and wife to bear offspring into the world. Notice that there is no parent/child relationship until after Man and Woman are bonded. There is no parent to let go of child at a marriage ceremony. This is a very important reminder, particularly for us parents, that the parent child relationship is temporary. We only have hold of our offspring for a brief moment in time. However, the marriage relationship is, because it is divinely ordained, permanent.

All too many people – men and women – do not realize the importance of this distinction. All too often the relationships of parent/child are held higher than the marriage. Perhaps this is why it is so easy for so many to walk away from the marriage relationship – they do not see it as something that is meant to last forever. Where do they go when there is division? Back to that relationship that is meant to be temporary.

Unfortunately, some parents are the cause of the division. They want to hold on to their children, to keep them too close, refusing to allow the marriage relationship to build and grow as is necessary for eternal survival.

So, we are reminded in today’s lesson that a man leaves his mother and father to cleave to his wife. The woman also leaves her place under the protective head of her father to stand beside her husband and be his help-mate. This is not a social institution created by man for the purpose of oppression or control over individuals or family unit. It is a divinely appointed relationship that is for the delight of those to whom it is given. While an important part of marriage is for the procreation of man, there is far more involved. Man had an entire creation to keep him company, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t right for him to be alone. So God gave him Woman to be his helpmate, to create community and to establish the relationship that would serve as an example of God’s relationship with His people and the Church.


September 29, 2006

Scriptures for October 8, 2006: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 8; Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

Psalm 8:1-9 O Jehovah, our Lord, How excellent is thy name in all the earth, Who hast set thy glory upon the heavens! Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou established strength, Because of thine adversaries, That thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him but little lower than God, And crownest him with glory and honor. Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, Yea, and the beasts of the field, The birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, Whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O Jehovah, our Lord, How excellent is thy name in all the earth!

I went to the San Diego Zoo last week when I was in California. The zoo is filled with thousands of interesting and unusual animals. The displays are designed to reflect the habitat and lifestyle of the animals and they are grouped according to some similar characteristic such as origin. It was fascinating to read the descriptions of the different animals, sometimes including very detailed information about the life and habits of the animals. There were even caretakers available to give talks and answer questions about some of the more unusual animals, such as the pandas.

I learned many things that day, but one of the most surprising facts is that the hippopotamus is the most dangerous animal in Africa. A hippo does not appear very dangerous, after all we see them as mild-mannered because they spend so much time wallowing in the water. Their sheer size gives the impression that they can’t move very fast or attack with any great strength. Hippos weigh about 8000 lbs, but they can run faster than a human – 18 miles and hour. They turn over boats and have mouths large enough to rip the head off a human. When they swing their head, it is like a large sledgehammer. They are very dangerous when threatened or when something stands between a mother and baby. They are aggressive, unpredictable and unafraid.

It is interesting to consider the animals and what makes them special. The peregrine falcon is the fastest animal, able to fly 100-200 miles per hour. The rhinoceros beetle is the strongest, able to lift 850 times his own weight. The blue whale is the biggest and the giraffe is the tallest. The howler monkey is the loudest; his howl can be heard up to three miles away.

When we compare animal abilities against human abilities, we find that we fail in comparison. Bats, cats, dogs, dolphins and elephants have a better sense of hearing. Buzzards have a better sense of sight. Dogs and cats have a better sense of smell. Even the star-nosed mole has a better sense of touch. No wonder the psalmist asked, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

Yet, we are reminded in today’s passage that God has created us in His image, crowned with glory and honor. We have been given dominion over the whole earth, to rule with reason, grace and humility. Everything that is God’s has been given to us as His agents to act on His behalf, and thus are cautioned to remember that it is God’s world, God’s creation and God’s kingdom over which we have been given rule. He is Sovereign, and though we also have authority and power, honor and glory, His rule and Glory is above all the heavens. His name is majestic. How majestic is His name in all the earth! Thanks be to God.