Welcome to the September 2007 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 2007

September 3, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 9, 2007: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33

Philemon 1:1-21 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved and fellow-worker, and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the church in thy house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always, making mention of thee in my prayers, hearing of thy love, and of the faith which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all the saints; that the fellowship of thy faith may become effectual, in the knowledge of every good thing which is in you, unto Christ. For I had much joy and comfort in thy love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through thee, brother. Wherefore, though I have all boldness in Christ to enjoin thee that which is befitting, yet for love's sake I rather beseech, being such a one as Paul the aged, and now a prisoner also of Christ Jesus: I beseech thee for my child, whom I have begotten in my bonds, Onesimus, who once was unprofitable to thee, but now is profitable to thee and to me: whom I have sent back to thee in his own person, that is, my very heart: whom I would fain have kept with me, that in thy behalf he might minister unto me in the bonds of the gospel: but without thy mind I would do nothing; that thy goodness should not be as of necessity, but of free will. For perhaps he was therefore parted from thee for a season, that thou shouldest have him for ever; no longer as a servant, but more than a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much rather to thee, both in the flesh and in the Lord. If then thou countest me a partner, receive him as myself. But if he hath wronged the at all, or oweth thee aught, put that to mine account; I Paul write it with mine own hand, I will repay it: that I say not unto thee that thou owest to me even thine own self besides. Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my heart in Christ. Having confidence in thine obedience I write unto thee, knowing that thou wilt do even beyond what I say.

Today’s scripture is like a chapter taken out of a much longer story. We do not know the beginning or the end. As we read this text, many questions come to mind. We know a little bit about the characters, the time and place where this story is set. Paul is the writer, a passionate Christian who has not only taken God’s word to the world, but has suffered for its sake. He is a prisoner, though we do not know from which imprisonment he is writing. We know that Timothy is a friend and co-worker in Christ, a ‘son’ of Paul not in the biological sense, but because Paul was the one who instructed him in the Christian faith. We know that Philemon is a man from Colossae of some means, since he had at least one slave and that he was Christian. We know that Onesimus was a slave from Colossae who became a Christian under the instruction of Paul.

We do not know how Onesimus became a slave. We do not know why he ran away or how he came to befriend Paul. We do not know what happened to these characters after Paul sent his letter. Did Paul have any impact on the relationship between Onesimus and Philemon? Were the reconciled? Did Onesimus suffer the consequences of his infraction against Philemon? Did Philemon have mercy and receive the slave as a brother in Christ? Did Paul ever see them again?

Paul’s concern here is not just for his new friend and brother Onesimus. He was concerned about Philemon. There is a question of a financial matter involved in this story. Was Onesimus purchased or did he owe Philemon a debt which forced him into slavery? Did Onesimus steal from Philemon when he escaped? Paul was so concerned for the welfare of both these men that he was willing to repay the cost to restore the relationship. That is what this story is all about – not the details of the lives of the men, but the purpose of Christian faith.

The purpose of Christian faith is restoration and forgiveness. Philemon knew the power of God’s forgiveness in his own life because he’d become a Christian. He knew the transforming power of the call of God in the lives of those who believe. Onesimus also learned about the forgiveness that comes from faith through the teaching and concern of his new friend Paul. Onesimus, though still a slave, was something new – a brother in Christ to all those who believed in Jesus. He was transformed and willing to serve. Did his good graces extend even to the one who had held him as a slave and did he return with courage and hope to the place where he belonged?

Along with forgiveness, we see a lesson is living our vocation in and through the faith we have been given. Philemon was master, Onesimus a slave. In Christ the roles of life may not change but the way we deal with one another does. In our own churches we often have people who are CEOs of a company and their employees worshipping side by side. That relationship reaches beyond the church door as the CEO is expected to treat the employee with Christian love and respect even in the workplace and vice versa, neither one taking advantage of their position in the church or in the world to set themselves ahead or above the other.

God puts us in a time and place, and in relationships, to accomplish His good and perfect work in this world. He needs people who are masters and slaves, CEOs and employees to live their Christian faith together not only within the walls of the church, but in the world so that others might see how God’s grace transforms the world. We don’t know the stories behind Philemon’s position or Onesimus’ slavery. We do know that Paul sought to restore their relationship for the sake of God’s kingdom in Colossae, so that the two brothers might work together in forgiveness and grace to make the Church grow in truth and in spirit. The prize we seek as Christians is not to be better than one another but to build the Church of Christ together so that we will shine God’s grace to the world.


September 4, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 9, 2007: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33

Luke 14:25-33 Now there went with him great multitudes: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. Whosoever doth not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doth not first sit down and count the cost, whether he have wherewith to complete it? Lest haply, when he hath laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all that behold begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, as he goeth to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and asketh conditions of peace. So therefore whosoever he be of you that renounceth not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.

We spent the weekend in Houston. It was a chance to spend time as a family, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and to relax before we take on the new school year in earnest. Our visit included a trip to the Space Center Houston, an interactive activity center about NASA and the U.S. space program. The center has numerous activities that describe the history of space exploration, movies that show visitors what it is like to travel in space and dozens of activities that give children the chance to act like an astronaut. We also took a tram around the Johnson Space Center and saw the Mission Control Center from which all Shuttle missions are directed.

The tram ride took us to Rocket Park, a place where old rockets are on display. One rocket is located inside a simple, large building. It was a Saturn V rocket, part of the Apollo program that was never used. When we entered the building we were amazed by the size of the rocket. At its widest point it is nearly forty feet in diameter and it is 363 feet tall. The rocket is displayed lying on its side so that we can see the different parts. The sections are separated into the three stages and I described to Victoria how each section drops away as the rocket shoots into space. When we finally reached the capsule, she was shocked at how small it is. “How do they walk around?” She has seen pictures of the astronauts walk around the shuttle and the International Space Center, so she did not understand how they could do their work in such a small space. The display helped us to see how things have changed throughout the years since the first rocket was shot into space.

You can’t visit the Space Center and not wonder at the cost of the program. After all, the rocket in the park must have cost billions of dollars to build and it is now a museum piece. It is a valuable piece because it helps us to see the incredible ingenuity of man who has been able to design machines to take us into outer space. While some might question the value of the space program, there is no doubt that the program has brought us many modern technologies that would never exist if it hadn’t been for the research and development of those rockets. Our computers, our microwaves, our cellular phones and other conveniences come directly from the work of those astronauts.

One of the displays in the Center shows about life in the International Space Station. It is impossible for us to imagine what it must be like to do every day activities like sleeping, eating and brushing teeth in a zero gravity environment. As disgusting as it might sound, they even described the process of using a toilet – not an easy task in space. Everything, including the people, must be tied down or it will float away. They sleep in bags that are attached to the wall. The food is squeezed out of bags to ensure no crumbs get into vital equipment. Even water floats without gravity. So, it might be fun to experience the weightlessness of space, but it is not an easy life to live.

There has been an even greater cost than financial and convenience, though. One of the movies described the history of the space program and the benefits to our world today. We saw film clips of many of the rockets and shuttles taking off. At one point we saw a shuttle launch and then suddenly everything went silent. It was a striking moment that brought a tear to my eye because it was at that moment we all remembered that moment in January 1986 when the Challenger exploded during lift off. On the tram ride we stopped by a grove of trees that has been planted to honor the astronauts who have died during space missions. Each oak tree represents a person who has given the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of the program. We might wonder whether the cost is worth it, but ask any astronaut and they will tell you that they know the risk. They have counted the cost of their vocational decision and are willing to face the dangers for the sake of the possibilities.

We are shocked by Jesus’ comment in today’s Gospel lesson. He said, “If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” This seems like a contradiction since Jesus talks about honoring mother and father. How can we both honor them and hate them? Jesus is telling us to consider the cost of following Him. Jesus is not talking about hate the way we understand it, which is defined as an extreme revulsion, distaste, enmity or antipathy for a person or thing. Jesus tells us to hate everything that will stand in the way of serving God – that means separating ourselves from the things that will distract us from Him. It is a matter of priorities, placing God ahead of everything else, including our selves. It is a heavy cost and never easy, but it is the expectation of the disciple.


September 5, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 9, 2007: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33

And he shall be like a tree planted by the streams of water, that bringeth forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also doth not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Sunday, September 9th is the Feast day for St. Peter Claver, a missionary to the African slaves sold through Cartagena, Columbia in the seventeenth century. He was born in Catalonia in 1518 and joined the Jesuits at age twenty. Alphonsus Rodriguez, the doorkeeper of the college, had a vision about Peter’s calling to be a missionary and he encouraged Peter until he agreed to travel to the Spanish possessions in Central and South America. Slavery was rampant, since the Spanish masters needed strong men to work the fields and gold mines. The minor rulers of the African coastal kingdoms sold off their subjects and prisoners to slave traders who then took their ‘goods’ to Cartagena to sell them. Despite the condemnation of the pope and Christian moralists, slavery was a thriving business. A thousand slaves a month made their way through Cartagena.

Peter Claver called himself “the slave of the negroes forever” devoting his life to caring for the needs of the slaves, both physical and spiritual. The slaves were often near death when they departed the ships from Africa, having traveled for a long time bound and crammed into the hull of a ship. Slaves, Negroes, were not counted as human; they were thought to be less than human. They cost pennies and sold for much, much more. It did not matter if half the slaves perished; the boat still brought profit to the traders. Peter realized that it was impossible to win the fight against the slave traders, so he focused on healing the sick and sharing the Gospel of grace with the slaves.

His mission made him plenty of enemies and it was not just the merchants who were against his work. Even the church accused him of indecent zeal, for many believed that he profaned the sacraments by giving them to the slaves who were less than human. He was rejected and humiliated, but continued to minister to the slaves anyway. He baptized and instructed in Christian faith more than 300,000 slaves throughout his life. He knew the cost of his mission and accepted it, sacrificing popularity and comfort for the sake of the lost souls to whom God had sent him to serve.

We have each been given a vocation, a calling in this world. It is through our vocation that God’s grace flows into the lives of others and His purpose for our lives is accomplished. Our vocation might not sound very godly – as a matter of fact, sometimes our jobs seem very counter to God’s intent. Is a stable hand really doing God’s work when he shovels the manure each day? What about those accountants, lawyers and stockbrokers riding the train each day? Is a mother serving God when she feeds her children or a shop clerk ringing up my total at the grocery store? Is a missionary like Peter Claver really doing God’s work if he ignores the issue and sings hymns to the dying?

Jesus says, “So therefore whosoever he be of you that renounceth not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” His point is not that we are to give up everything of this world and lead a life of separation like a monk or a hermit. He is telling us that we must check our priorities. What matters most? What is the purpose of our work? Who are we serving when we start our day. To follow Jesus means putting Him first. It means leaving aside our agendas, our expectations, our desires to do what He has called us to do in Christian faith. As recipients of God’s grace we are called to make Him the priority in our life, to consider His Word when we make our decisions and to walk in His ways as we respond to His call. This is what Paul was telling to Philemon – that he should consider God’s grace when dealing with his runaway slave, to do what is right according to God’s Word even when it might mean sacrificing for the sake of another.

In doing so Philemon will experience God’s grace as the psalmist describes those who delight in the law of the Lord. “And he shall be like a tree planted by the streams of water, that bringeth forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also doth not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” So, too, it will be with us when we make God our priority and do what is right according to His Word. Following Jesus means counting the cost. It means sacrificing for the sake of another. Most of all, it means putting God first. For it is in God’s grace that we will truly live.


September 6, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 16, 2007: Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51:1-10; 1 timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

Exodus 32:7-14 And Jehovah spake unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, that thou broughtest up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves: they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed unto it, and said, These are thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And Jehovah said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation. And Moses besought Jehovah his God, and said, Jehovah, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, that thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, saying, For evil did he bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever. And Jehovah repented of the evil which he said he would do unto his people.

The Milton Hershey story is one of perseverance. He failed miserably at many of the things he tried, but through trial he discovered the secret to doing his work well. His work, as we all know, was chocolate. He was raised with a strong sense of responsibility and hard work from his family and his church. His father welcomed him into the family business as an apprentice but they quickly learned that Milton’s talents were not in printing. He went to work as an apprentice with a candy-maker and quickly learned a love of the craft. He tried to open his own shop in Philadelphia which failed miserably. He went to Colorado where he worked with a caramel manufacturer. There he learned that it takes fresh milk to make better candy. He took this knowledge to Chicago and then to New Orleans and tried to open new shops. Each time he failed.

Finally he returned to Pennsylvania and raised enough money to try one more time. There he opened the Lancaster Caramel Company. He soon became interested in chocolate, particularly fascinated by the machinery coming out of Germany. He purchased some equipment and began making chocolate coating for his caramels. He eventually sold the caramel factory but kept the chocolate equipment. With the million dollars he earned from the sale he began a new factory in his hometown. He not only established the first mass production of chocolate, but also a whole community around the business. He took care of the people who worked for him, ensuring jobs even during the depression and everything the families would need to survive. His business was a success and Hershey’s chocolate has long been an American tradition.

It is hard enough to fail, but each time Milton Hershey failed he had to begin from the beginning. He kept turning back to his love, however, which was candy-making. It is where his talent lie, but he had trouble discovering how to use his talents in the world. He tried and tried again until he was left with nothing, but even that did not stop him. He finally returned home, raised enough money and began his own factory – a factory that succeeded. It would have been so easy for him to turn away from candy-making, to try new things. He could have easily apprenticed with other masters until he found a business that he could make work. He didn’t. He stuck with candy-making. He finally found the right way to use his talents and we are still enjoying the fruits of his labor.

Today’s Old Testament tells the story of God and His people. Throughout the scriptures we see this story happening over and over again. God saves His people, but they have to wait for the fulfillment of all His promises. His people grow impatient and are easily distracted from His purpose, so they turn to other gods. God grows angry and threatens His wrath, but one of His faithful reminds Him of His promises. He turns from His wrath and saves them again.

Those who seek a powerful and controlling god might see Him as fickle and weak, giving in with just a word, but the reality is that the God of our fathers is a merciful and faithful God. As children we think about the work we are going to do and often change our mind on a whim. A five-year old’s choices are often based on what they see at that moment – a young girl wants to be a ballerina after seeing a movie staring a dancer, but then wants to be a doctor after she gets a lollipop in the doctor’s office.

Milton Hershey did not let failure change his course. He kept trying. He was an unique human being. He knew what he should do and he kept trying until he got it right. We aren’t always so persistent when it comes to faith. We lose touch with God easily, especially when we think that He is not responding to our needs. We turn to other gods and give them the credit for our life. Yet God is always faithful. He did not change His mind because someone said the right thing or did the right thing. He was merciful because He promised to be merciful. He repented because mercy and love is His character. We can rest in this promise because we, like the people of God throughout history, will turn away from Him over and over again. Each time, God is reminded, by our Lord Jesus Christ, of His promise and He turns away from His wrath for Jesus’ sake. He remains faithful, and by His grace we are saved.


September 7, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 16, 2007: Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

Psalm 51:1-10 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: According to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions; And my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, And done that which is evil in thy sight; That thou mayest be justified when thou speakest, And be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; And in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts; And in the hidden part thou wilt make me to know wisdom. Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, That the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, And blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; And renew a right spirit within me.

David was specially chosen by God to serve as king of the people of Israel. He loved the Lord and had a heart to serve Him. He was blessed by God, ruled over the people during a period of prosperity and growth and has been listed among God’s faithful and righteous people.

David was also a sinner. The second book of Samuel, chapters eleven and twelve, tell the story of David and the beautiful Bathsheba. He saw her bathing and fell for her. He sent for her and when she came he slept with her, causing a pregnancy. She was the wife of a soldier fighting against the enemies of Israel. David tried to hide the affair but Uriah refused to sleep with his wife out of respect for his fellow soldiers still on the battlefield. In the end David had Uriah killed and then he took Bathsheba as his own wife.

Nathan the prophet approached David about this sin. He told David the story about two men, one who was rich and the other who was poor. The rich man had plenty of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had just one. When a traveler visited the rich man, he took the sheep of the poor man to serve at the feast rather than one of the many sheep in his flock. When David heard this story he was outraged and ready to punish the rich man for his sin. Nathan told David that he was the sinner. “Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; and I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added unto thee such and such things. Wherefore hast thou despised the word of Jehovah, to do that which is evil in his sight?” (2 Samuel 12:7b-9b, ASV)

The Psalm is David’s response to this revelation. He realized that he was a sinner in need of the grace and mercy of God. He sang his repentance in this hymn, coming before God with a sense of deep grief over his sin, earnestly seeking God’s help and forgiveness.

In verse 7 David says, “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.” Hyssop is a very important herb in the Bible, used for cleansing. In Leviticus 14 it is used to cleanse skin disease from a person and mildew from a home. In Numbers 19 it is used to create the water used for purification. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Moses used hyssop to sprinkle Blood on the book of the Covenant and on the people to confirm the covenant (Hebrews 9). John the Evangelist tells us that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross, a sponge of sour wine was put on the end of a hyssop branch to give him something to drink. In Exodus 12, the people use hyssop to put the blood on the lintels of their homes to turn away the tenth plague (angel of death.)

Hyssop was used in Hebrew ritual, but also in other religions throughout history, to cleanse sacred places. It was a symbol of cleansing and purification, but why? Why would the plant be so important? Many experts disagree about which plant was used when referring to hyssop, though modern herbalists describe hyssop as a cleansing herb. It is good for purging the body of ills, especially if taken as a tea. It is used as an expectorant to clean the respiratory system and it promotes sweating so is good for fever. It is also good for digestion, for the immune system and for clearing the mind. It is also good to use as a poultice for healing wounds. These medical uses of hyssop make it a logical choice when using it for spiritual and symbolic cleansing. If it can clean the body, then it can certainly clean the spiritual and the sacred places.

Hyssop is not a pleasant herb to eat, somewhat bitter and very strong. Little was needed to make a powerful tea. However, the unpleasant smell was also one of the characteristics that made it a viable herb for religious ritual. In the time of the Hebrews in Egypt, it was believed that the smell of hyssop could repel evil spirits, so perhaps it was the smell of the hyssop as well as the blood that kept the angel of death from their doorjambs. David asked God to cleanse him with hyssop. He desired God’s forgiveness; he wanted to be made clean. Perhaps he also wanted evil to repelled by his life so that he could live righteously in God’s service.


September 10, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 16, 2007: Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

1 Timothy 1:12-17 I thank him that enabled me, even Christ Jesus our Lord, for that he counted me faithful, appointing me to his service; though I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: howbeit I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord abounded exceedingly with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief: howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as chief might Jesus Christ show forth all his longsuffering, for an ensample of them that should thereafter believe on him unto eternal life. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

It is hard to believe, but the kids began their third week of school today. This has been an exciting year for us since both Victoria and Zack are in high school now. Victoria is a senior and Zack a mere fish (as the seniors call the freshmen.) It is amazing to watch them as they approach these important milestones. Victoria has so much confidence; I’m very proud of the way she is taking hold of her opportunities and putting her whole self into her academics and activities. Zack was typically excited and hesitant about his first day of school – a little unsure about where to go and about his teachers. But, he quickly overcame any fears and uncertainty and has jumped in to the experience with full force. It helped to know that some of his friends share classes and that he has a caring big sister in the school, but he also has enough courage and enthusiasm to do well. Both Victoria and Zack are outgoing enough to succeed and it has been that way for them throughout their school careers.

It is not the same for all students. I remember when Zack was in Kindergarten. We were living in England and the kids attended the Department of Defense School in our community. The children were expected to wait outside the building until a certain time, and the kindergarteners were assigned a very specific place to wait. They lined up according to classroom and patiently waited for the teachers to come lead them in to school. The parents hovered nearby until they left, keeping an eye on the child until they were under the care of a responsible adult.

Sometimes the kids were not so patient. It is hard to be five and to stand in line for five or ten minutes, or longer. Since I love interacting with the kids, and often helped in the classroom, I spent that time chatting with Zack and the other children, listening to them tell me about their lives. It didn’t take very long for the children to expect to get a high five or a hug from me along with a listening ear. Some days I nearly fell over when the whole class attacked me. There was one boy who was very shy. At first he did not want hugs and high fives; he did not want to talk about anything. Each day, however, I said “hello” and offered him my hand. It took a long time – months – but he eventually opened up to me. At first it was just a shy smile or a brief word, but by the end of the school year his smile was bright and his hugs were long. I could have ignored him after the first couple of rejections, but I did not let it go. Zack’s teacher once told me that those brief moments made a difference to the way that boy performed in school – a little bit of confidence goes a long way.

Paul has a most extraordinary story to tell. He was passionate for God without even knowing Him, willingly accosting any who stood for the Way, the Christian faith. One day Christ came to him in a powerful and frightening way and he was changed forever. Few of us can tell a similar story. Most of us come to know about God and to have faith in Christ with the patient and persistent witness of those who come before us. I wonder how many times Paul heard the Gospel before that day on the road to Damascus. I wonder how many people he rejected and harmed out of his zealousness for the old way. I wonder how many people – like Ananias – thought Paul was beyond hope, choosing to give up on him rather than risk his wrath.

In this letter to Timothy, Paul recognizes his sinfulness, admitting to having been ignorant while he thought himself to be wise. We often see Paul as being strong, arrogant, self-centered because he talks about himself so much, even in letters of encouragement to others. In this passage he writes, “…for an ensample of them that should thereafter believe on him unto eternal life.” However, Paul was not holding himself up as an example of Christ-like living to follow, but as a sample of a humble, repentant sinner receiving God’s amazing grace. Paul didn’t become the great evangelist by any power of his own, but by the power of God’s love and mercy. He calls himself the foremost sinner, not because he thinks himself greater than others but because he recognized how he never deserved God’s grace because he had rejected God.

It is good to emulate the work of Paul, to share the Gospel as we are able and to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ in whatever manner and gift we have been given, but that is not the example he wants us to follow. In this passage we are called to see ourselves as sinners in need of a Savior, to recognize God’s grace in the world around us and to share it with others so that they too might come to faith. It takes time. Sometimes it takes a lifetime. However no one is outside of hope. We shouldn’t give up on any, no matter how much we are rejected. God did not give up on Paul. He never gave up on us. He hasn’t given up on those who are still lost and suffering in the darkness.


September 11, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 16, 2007: Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

Luke 15:1-10 Now all the publicans and sinners were drawing near unto him to hear him. And both the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake unto them this parable, saying, What man of you, having a hundred sheep, and having lost one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and his neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who need no repentance. Or what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a lamp, and sweep the house, and seek diligently until she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth together her friends and neighbors, saying, Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I had lost. Even so, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.

We had a very wet summer here in Texas. The rain has had a dramatic effect on many things. The grass is green, the trees are growing faster and the dry creek beds have been running with water. I heard just yesterday that the ragweed – an allergen that affects many people, including myself – has grown taller than normal. People who receive injections for allergies have been encouraged to get their shots now because it will be a miserable time for them when this ragweed blooms.

Another thing the rain produced was an almost plague-like number of crickets. The conditions were apparently perfect and we have had thousands of crickets in our yard. The huge cricket population was even more obvious during a visit to one of the local theme parks this summer. We went early in the morning to enjoy the water area of the park before the large crowds showed up. We love the lazy river attraction but hate it when it gets to crowded, so we were among the first in the pool. The lifeguards were still preparing the park, cleaning the pool of the bugs that had fallen in the water overnight. It is no exaggeration to say there were thousands of crickets on the side of the pool and floating in the water. The sides of the pool were black with them. The crickets were born in response to the rain, but when the ground dried after a few days of no rain they had to find a source of water. They were drawn by the water in the pools.

This story is interesting because we hear that the sinners and tax collectors were drawing near to Jesus. We normally expect that the faithful will flock to a preacher and teacher, but in Jesus’ case the righteous, the self-righteous, people were offended by Him. They saw Him as a threat. They saw Him as opposite of everything they expected in a Savior. He did not appear more righteous than others because He did things that seemed counter to the Law of Moses. He had mercy on sinners. He ate with tax collectors. He touched the unclean and offered forgiveness to all who sought Him. They came to Him because He had something to offer them, something they could not find anywhere else. The righteous, the self-righteous, did not mercy or forgiveness. They did not need God’s grace.

The stories in our lesson almost seem contradictory to what was happening. Jesus told of a shepherd and woman looking for something of value. In those stories, God is the shepherd and the woman. Specifically, Jesus was telling stories about Himself. He had come to find the lost sheep and the lost coin. The people who came to hear Him, to receive His grace were the ones He came to find. The righteous, the self-righteous, grumbled about how this supposed rabbi was welcoming sinners and tax collectors and how He ate with them. Though the sinners and tax collectors are seen as coming to Jesus, the stories show us that Jesus actually came looking for them. The lost sheep heard the voice of their Master and came running for deliverance. The Pharisees and the scribes did not hear that voice. They did not recognize the voice. They did not know Jesus. The tax collectors and sinners did know Him and they knew they needed what He had to give.


September 12, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 16, 2007: Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: According to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

Saint Cyprian is quoted as saying, “Whatever a man prefers to God, that he makes a god to himself.” It is so easy for us to turn away from God because there are so many things that compete for our attention. I like to say that it is true in our modern age, but nothing has changed over the history of God’s people. Our ‘gods’ might be different, but every generation of human being had to fight to hold on to the faith that gives hope, joy and peace.

Cyprian lived in the third century, relatively early in the history of Christianity. The Romans were still in power, but there was a time when some of the emperors embraced Christianity. Cyprian was from Carthage, though far from Rome still under Roman dominion. He lived during a time of relative peace. The people were comfortable, happy and secure. Unfortunately, it is during peaceful times when we lose touch with our faith because we have no need to cry out to the God of deliverance. Cyprian was a late convert, not coming to faith until his forties, but as a learned man and a powerful speaker he quickly rose to the rank of Bishop in the church.

He was unhappy with the state of the Church; there was a lack of discipline. Many of the Christians, including the clergy, were living like the pagans, no longer living as God had called the people of faith to live – separate even while living in the world. There were instances of fraud and swindling. The clergy was so ignorant of the Word of God that they could not properly instruct the new Christians. The line between heresy and orthodox belief was so shady that many could not recognize the difference. When the persecution under the emperor Decian began, the Christians had no firm foundation on which to stand and many turned to the old pagan ways. They willingly sacrificed to the gods of Rome or signed letters recanting their Christian faith.

It does not take much for us to turn away from God. For the Christians in third century Rome the danger was very real – martyrdom. The line is hazier for the people waiting at the foot of the mountain for Moses to return with God’s Law. They thought that Moses was dead, that he was lost, that he was never going to return. Everything that had been promised to them by this unknown God was worthless because the only spokesperson for Him was gone. They turned to their old ways.

The scribes and Pharisees had not turned to Roman gods but they were drawn away from God by a much less obvious god – themselves. They relied on their self-righteousness, their obedience to a set of laws and their own interpretation of them. They looked down on Jesus because He willingly ate with sinners and tax collectors – to them, this was the sin. They had forgotten that God is the God of mercy and grace, that He loves all who seek Him. They missed that Jesus was the one whom God had sent to bring His people home. To them the story of the lost sheep and the lost coin had no meaning because to them it was more important to conform than to seek God. The lost sheep and the lost coin were lost by their own sin – they did not deserve mercy.

During the life of Cyprian, many Christians were persecuted and martyred for their faith. A huge number of Christians gave in to the society in which they lived. However, many of them realized their mistake and they repented. They wished to be restored to the Church and were willing to stand against the persecution. Most of the church leaders were unwilling to grant forgiveness. They were apostate and did not deserve mercy. When God told Moses that the people had turned, God wanted to vent His wrath on them but Moses begged him to relent. Moses did not try to say the people did not deserve the wrath, but instead reminded God of His promises. Moses reminded God of what He had already done. “Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, saying, For evil did he bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth?” God relented and the Hebrews were saved. In the case of the heretics who repented, Cyprian recognized the need for compassion and argued for reinstatement in the Church.

It is amazing how often history repeats itself. We don’t always recognize the similarities because the issues are much different, yet as I was reading through the life of Cyprian and this week’s scriptures I could not help but notice a parallel between these stories and our modern age. We have lived in a time of relative peace, without threat of martyrdom to keep our zeal and passion for Christ. The line between heresy and orthodoxy has become so hazy that most Christians can’t recognize the difference. In all too many ways the Church has willingly followed the ways of the world rather than standing up for Christ.

Now is the time for all of us to pray like David, in repentance and faith, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: According to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.” God hears and He answers the prayers of His children. If Cyprian can offer compassion to those who have turned away from God, how much more will the grace and mercy of God to be to those who love Him and repent? Through it all, we are reminded that time after time, God has come to His people in their sin, seeking the lost sheep and the lost coins. He remembers His promises and remains faithful, restoring His people to His heart and to one another.


September 13, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 23, 2007: Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

Amos 8:4-7 Hear this, O ye that would swallow up the needy, and cause the poor of the land to fail, saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell grain? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and dealing falsely with balances of deceit; that we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes, and sell the refuse of the wheat? Jehovah hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their works.

Why do you go to church? This is a question that is often asked of people who regularly attend a worship service and it is a question that may have a thousand different answers. Of course, there are those who will tell you that the only real reason to attend church is to worship God, but that is in itself a very simplistic answer. We know that we can worship God elsewhere. We can worship God in the field and while studying the Bible in our living rooms. Even if we insist that going to church means being part of the gathering of believers to worship God, we know that the gathering can be just two or three meeting together any time and in any place.

Some people will answer that they do not feel complete without a regular dose of Word and Sacrament. They want to be fed so that they will be renewed and refilled with the strength to face the world. Others will tell you that they go to church because it is a chance to fellowship with like-minded people. They go because it is one of the few places in this world that is warm and welcoming. They go to church because it is a way of staying in touch with friends and even family. I read on a blog that someone goes to church on Sunday because he or she is confused about which day it is for the rest of the week when they do not go. Many say that they feel like they have missed something important when they stay home from church, even though they often can’t identify what they are missing. The gathering of God’s people also gives us a place to find peace in the midst of our storms and healing for our dis-ease. For one moment a week we can set aside the problems and worries of the world and focus on something else.

There are other reasons that people go to church, but I’m not sure many people would admit to these reasons. Some people attend Sunday services because it is a great way to network with other professionals. I have seen too many people giving out their business cards, suggesting fellow members need their services for a better life. Others attend out of duty. They are afraid that they will offend or upset family members and friends if they do not show up. They go because it is what they have always done since they were young and they learned that it is what you are supposed to do. There are some who attend because it is a place where they can be in control. Others think that if they go to church, then the things they do in the world will be forgiven and forgotten.

Of course, there are many people who do not bother to go to church. Though some do not go because they are not believers, a large number of them are Christians. Their reasons are as diverse as the reasons for going. Some work on Sundays or have other responsibilities that keep them from attending the services. Others work so hard the rest of the week that they would rather keep one day for sleeping in and having leisurely breakfast then taking the time to read the newspapers. Others miss a Sunday or two during the year because there is a very important sports event on the television. All too many think that the church is full of hypocrites, people who aren’t there for the right reasons. Why bother when the other Christians are there to sell themselves or are there out of duty?

Knowing this diversity of opinion, it is important to consider our own motivations. Why do we go to church? We do not need to ask this question to determine the status of our salvation, for our faith is not dependent on the things that we do. However, as Christians we are called to examine ourselves to determine the state of our hearts. Are our motives good and right and true before the God of our faith? When we are at church, are we anxious to be somewhere else? Are we more focused on what will happen later than we are about what is happening at that moment? If our motives are wrong, we are more likely to be distracted – singing half-heartedly, nodding off during the sermon, rushing out as soon as the service is over for that cup of coffee and donut or to get on with our lives. If we attend worship for the wrong reasons, we will not give God the praise He deserves. He wants more than our bodies. He wants our hearts.

Apparently this has always been a problem with God’s people, so it is no surprise that there might be people attending worship today for the wrong reasons. We do not know why the people in this passage from Amos were there, but they were obviously not there in heart and soul. God could see their hearts, and He sees ours. We also see that those who were anxious to be finished with the worship did not even take their faith into the world. They robbed the poor and cheated the needy. They cared only for taking care of themselves. So, why do we go to church? We can’t read the state of someone else’s heart but we can examine ourselves. What is the state of our hearts? What happens when we go out through those church doors into the world? Do we take our faith with us or are we anxious to get on with our lives? God sees the heart and knows when we would rather be elsewhere. Shouldn’t we be honest enough to examine our motivations and then seek God’s help in doing what is right?


September 14, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 23, 2007: Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

Psalm 113 Praise ye Jehovah. Praise, O ye servants of Jehovah, Praise the name of Jehovah. Blessed be the name of Jehovah from this time forth and for evermore. From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same Jehovah's name is to be praised. Jehovah is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens. Who is like unto Jehovah our God, that hath his seat on high, that humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth? He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the needy from the dunghill; that he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people. He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye Jehovah.

I took a survey today. The survey was addressing the understanding of spirituality within our church today. The surveyor asked questions about when we feel spiritual, where we experience the presence of God and how we describe God. Some of the questions were very hard because I wanted to give multiple answers. In one question, the surveyor asked “How do you describe God? One or Three?” I wanted to answer “Yes” because to me we can’t understand God as simply One or Three. He is both. In another question, the surveyor asked whether God was “knowable or a mystery.” Again I wanted to answer “Yes” because he is both knowable and mysterious.

We know God because He has revealed Himself to the world. In the beginning He said, “Let there be light” and there was light. Though there was no one present to see the light that was there in the beginning, that light has continued to shine as God’s presence in the world. God revealed Himself to the first people – Adam and Eve – in the Garden, and though they failed and were cast out of His presence, He never stopped loving the crown of His creation. God revealed Himself to the faithful over the ages – to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the judges, prophets and kings. He revealed Himself in the Law. He revealed Himself in the deliverance of His people. He revealed Himself through promises and then finally He revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.

We know God because He came to dwell among His people in the flesh. Born a child in a humble stable in Bethlehem, Jesus Christ was the embodiment of the divine in the body of a man. Through Christ we have seen the very character of God living and breathing among men. We saw God’s love and mercy and grace in action as Jesus preached the good news, healed the sick and set free those who were bound by all manner of things. Through Christ we can know God personally, we can even call Him Abba or Daddy.

Yet, despite how knowable God is to us who live by faith, He is still a mystery. God is the Creator of heaven and earth. He is the Deliverer who brought His people out of slavery in Egypt. He is the Redeemer who set His people free from the even greater burden of their sin. He is as living and active in our world today as He was in the beginning when He brought light out of darkness and order out of chaos. He still creates and recreates His creation, guiding His people in His ways and gifting us with all we need to join Him in the work of creation and redemption in this world.

That is the greatest mystery. Why would the Creator, Deliverer and Redeemer of the world give authority and power to people like you and I to help with His work in the world. It is by His grace that people are saved, but it is through our humble human flesh that He is revealed to them. It is His Word that brings peace, but our tongues speak that Word to the world. It is by His blood that we are forgiven, but He has chosen to institute rituals using water, bread, wine and people to share that blood with His faithful. He has promised us great things and remains faithful despite our inability to remain faithful to Him. He is truly a mystery in that He is the Lord God Almighty and yet He decided to send His Son to the world to teach His people how to live and to die that they might live forever.


September 17, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 23, 2007: Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

1 Timothy 2:1-7 I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all men; for kings and all that are in high place; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all; the testimony to be borne in its own times; whereunto I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I speak the truth, I lie not), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

In a blog or message board I recently was reading, an atheist wrote, “Don’t pray for me.” He did not believe that there is a God, so considered prayer a waste of time and energy. As a Christian, I find it hard to understand that point of view because even if he does not believe, I do. Why should he mind that I want to take my time to say prayers for him?

Actually, I do understand. He expects – and perhaps he has good reason to think so – that the prayers are for conversion. All too many of our prayers are sent up to God for the wrong reasons. We offer these prayers because we are frustrated by our relationship with them. We tell them that we’ll pray that God will reveal Himself to them so that they will see. We do this not necessarily because we have a heart for the lost and wish them to be saved. Too often we do this because we want to be proven right. If only they could see some evidence of God’s love, then they will believe what we have been trying to tell them. So, we pray.

We also do this when we are praying for our leaders. I have heard too many prayers with an agenda. These are prayers that try to teach the listeners, including God, about how things should be done. These are the prayers that describe the issue at hand and then ask God to make people – including the leaders – to see how it should be. “Turn their hearts so that they will do exactly what I think they should be doing.” If there is no room for change, then the prayer is that God will replace the leader with someone who will do what is right in their minds. No wonder the atheists and others do not wish to have us pray for them. Our prayers, too often, seem to be focused on what is best according to our point of view.

Paul writes to Timothy, “I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all men.” We are commanded to pray. That is why we find it so hard when someone tells us they would rather we did not pray. Prayer is our way of showing our support, of bringing our hopes and concerns before someone who is greater than us. It is through prayer, communication with God, that we find some sense of peace in the situation. Prayer does not always bring about the answer we would hope, but we pray in confidence that God has heard and that He will be in the midst of the situation. Most of us see a change of heart as the answer – whether the question has to do with a friend who does not believe or a leader who is doing things we deem as wrong. We want to pray that they will become more like us, because from our point of view that is the only way to solve the problem.

Yet, as Paul writes to Timothy, our task is not to pray that God will make them like us. We are to pray “that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity.” In that day, the leaders were enemies of the Christians. The Jewish leaders were fighting the Way, trying to halt this strange new religion that was bringing conflict to families and communities. The Roman leaders were fighting this new religion because the conflicts were causing strife in the cities and empire. The Christians were tearing apart the peace that Rome had enjoyed for so long. Imagine how hard it must have been to pray for those leaders who were enemies.

Yet, when we pray for someone, truly and really pray for them without an agenda, we can’t help but identify with them and grow in love for them. God’s grace enters into our hearts and we see those leaders from a new perspective – from God’s heart. However, if we are constantly praying for them to become like us, we see only how they are different. We pray for change and we take that prayerful attitude into the work we do. If we want them to change, we’ll do anything to ensure the prayers are answered to our satisfaction.

As much as we think we are right, our point of view might not be what God intends. We don’t know the whole picture. We know only that God is faithful and that He will be with us. He wants all men to be saved. He hasn’t told us how He will accomplish it. He only asks that we live the tranquil and quiet life so that men will see the God of grace in our lives. Our prayers, and the actions brought about by our prayers, will stand as a witness to God’s love in this world. He will take care of the rest. He knows what He intends, He knows hearts and He is faithful. As we live in this truth we can pray for others, whether they are unbelievers or enemies, with thanksgiving, knowing that God has purpose for them, too.


September 18, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 23, 2007: Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

Luke 16:1-13 And he said also unto the disciples, There was a certain rich man, who had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he was wasting his goods. And he called him, and said unto him, What is this that I hear of thee? render the account of thy stewardship; for thou canst be no longer steward. And the steward said within himself, What shall I do, seeing that my lord taketh away the stewardship from me? I have not strength to dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. And calling to him each one of his lord's debtors, he said to the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, A hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bond, and sit down quickly and write fifty. Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, A hundred measures of wheat. He saith unto him, Take thy bond, and write fourscore. And his lord commended the unrighteous steward because he had done wisely: for the sons of this world are for their own generation wiser than the sons of the light. And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles. He that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much: and he that is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?

Beetle Bailey has been a private for as long as the comic strip has been in publication. The ongoing story of his laziness is what makes the comic strip funny. Beetle Bailey has spent decades falling asleep on the job, avoiding every task and conning others to do his work. He is not trustworthy and has gotten into trouble over and over again for his uselessness. In this comic strip we see the truth of life in the working world – if you can’t be trusted to do the things you are given to do, you won’t be given a promotion. In the military and in other jobs, a promotion means greater responsibility. If a person is unable to complete the lesser tasks, they will never move on to greater things. Beetle Bailey has remained a private for all those years because he has not been worthy of anything greater.

Beetle Bailey is just a comic strip that would not be nearly as funny if Beetle was a model soldier. But in the real world, Beetle Bailey would not have kept his job for very long. As a retail manager, I paid attention to the work habits of my employees. Those who proved themselves trustworthy with the little things were the first to be considered for promotion. The same is true in fast food, a new employee always begins with a mop, then they move into food prep, cashier and eventually they might even be considered for a supervisory or management position. During my recent job search, I have noticed that most employers these days hire only entry level employees and then promote from the inside. They know that the best employees are the ones who can be trusted with little so they hire people to do the little things until they deserve to be in charge of much.

There are many reasons why an employee might not work out in a job situation. Sometimes they are simply incapable of the task or they do not have the right talents and abilities to accomplish the work. Others are greedy or dishonest. Those employees are willing to lie, steal and cheat. I remember employees that punched in at the time clock early, but then waited until the minute they were scheduled to start to get to work. One woman punched her time card as soon as she walked in the door, and then she went to her locker to put away her lunch and put on her uniform. She usually made a trip to the bathroom and then got a quick drink before heading to the floor. This may not seem like a very big deal, but by the end of the week she had enough time on her card to earn a few extra dollars. By the end of the year it came out to hundreds of dollars of paid wages for time she spent not working.

Other employees think that it is ok to eat a piece of candy or some french fries without paying. I have seen employees damage merchandise to get a discounted price or hide merchandise until it is slated for the clearance aisle. It doesn’t pay to work this way. The employee’s habits are usually discovered and they lose out on the chance for promotion. Sometimes they are even fired.

The last few verses of the scripture for today has proven itself true in the real world. Beetle Bailey has remained a private for decades because he is not a trustworthy soldier. In my retail experience, I knew it was best to choose those who had been trustworthy with the little things for the promotions and special tasks around the store. Luke writes is talking about even more important things – spiritual and eternal riches. If someone is not trustworthy and honorable with the things of this world, how can they possibly handle the things of God? Jesus knows those who can be trusted with the work of His kingdom, He knows the hearts of those who will serve Him well. There are many who take advantage of the power and position they’ve been given to benefit their own lives, but God knows those who have been faithful, and they will be blessed with so much more.


September 19, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 23, 2007: Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

And his lord commended the unrighteous steward because he had done wisely: for the sons of this world are for their own generation wiser than the sons of the light.

This is one of the most difficult texts we deal with from Jesus. We are shocked by this week’s Gospel lesson because it seems to condone dishonest behavior. It does not make sense to us that Jesus would lift up this type of behavior as an example for us to follow. We do not expect Jesus to tell us to be shrewd like those in the world, like the manager of the rich man. We wonder how the rich man could give the manager a pat on the back for doing what seems to be so wrong.

However, let’s look at this story a little bit more closely. The manager was dishonest. He was squandering the property of the rich man. We do not know what was going on. Perhaps he was embezzling or perhaps he was simply a bad manager. I always assumed, as I read this story, that the manager was also cheating the poor, yet there seems to be no evidence of it. All we really know is that there was something wrong and that he was not being a very good manager. The rich man did not even know what was going on. He had heard rumors of poor management and called the manager to show the accounts. He must have given the manager some time to get ready for the audit, because the manager was able to do something about the accounts.

The rich man was concerned about the bottom line, were his accounts in good order. The manager decided to do something. He was fired anyway, so he might as well do something to put him in good standing with the community, something that would make him some friends for his future. He knows that he is unable to support himself without a job, so he does whatever is necessary to make use of his limited time and resources. He did cut the debts out of the goodness of his heart, but rather expected that people would feel a new debt to him when it was all over. He collected the debts that were owed by making the debts more manageable to the people. A hundred jugs of oil was reduced to fifty, a hundred containers of wheat became eighty. Notice the man debt reduction is not equal – he seems to be asking for as much as the debtor can pay. In the end the manager made a good accounting before the rich man, the rumors were put to rest and the rich man commended the manager for his shrewdness.

Jesus finished this parable with the lesson, “Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles.” I suppose this is what is so bothersome about this passage. How could Jesus tell the people to use money to make friends? This statement is not meant to encourage dishonesty, but to induce people to make the best use of their resources. The Jews were a people of faith, called to trust in God and His provision of all they needed. Their attitude was meant to be one of mutual caring. Those who had much were expected to share with those who did not have enough. Any money beyond that which is necessary to meet today’s needs was considered “unrighteous mammon.”

We call the manager “dishonest” because that is the way it is translated in many versions. The Greek word certainly can be translated that way. It is also translated “unrighteous.” Unrighteousness is about broken relationships, about being in ‘un-right’ in one’s associations. The manager was not right in this relationship with the rich man, and not right in his relationship with the people. His right use of the unrighteous mammon put him in right relationship with the rich man and with the people. We should not use this manager as an example of good or godly living. He is still an unrighteous man doing dishonest things with mammon.

As we think about it, though. Aren’t we also unrighteous people doing dishonest things with mammon? We have never been very good stewards of the resources God has given to us. We are wasteful, greedy and dishonest. We fail at using those resources in a way that will build up the kingdom and take care of the needs of those who do not have enough. We are so much like that unrighteous manager and God calls us to account. How will we make use of our resources so as to heal broken relationships? We are put in charge of earthly wealth for a time. Will we use that wealth in a way that makes us right with one another?

Jesus follows this parable with a lesson about faithfulness. Those who are faithful with a little will be given charge of very much, but those who are dishonest with a little will be dishonest with much. We are called to be faithful with our earthly possessions so that we can also be trusted with the true riches – spiritual wealth. Faithfulness means trusting in God, living in His amazing grace and sharing our blessedness with others. The parable shows a world that trusts in mammon. We are to see in this parable that we can not trust in wealth or money because it is fleeting. Instead, we can see that by God’s grace we can trust in Him who is the source of all our wealth and use that wealth shrewdly in this world to build up His kingdom, bringing others into right relationship with God.


September 20, 2007

Scriptures for September 30, 2007: Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31

Amos 6:1a, 4-7 Woe to them that are at ease in Zion… ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near; that lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall; that sing idle songs to the sound of the viol; that invent for themselves instruments of music, like David; that drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief oils; but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. Therefore shall they now go captive with the first that go captive; and the revelry of them that stretched themselves shall pass away.

Amos was a prophet who was sent to the Northern Kingdom, Israel, in the middle of the eight century B.C. This was a time of prosperity and security; the people were comfortable. They were comfortable because they thought their prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing. They thought they were reliving the golden age of Israel, like when David and Solomon were king. They followed the rituals of worship and thought in doing so that they had earned their prosperity; they thought God was pleased with their worship and that they had no other concerns. Their beliefs were pagan in nature.

Things were not great in the Northern Kingdom, referred to in Amos as “the House of Joseph.” Joseph’s son Ephraim was the forefather of the people who settled in the Northern Kingdom. The Northern Kingdom was situated close to Assyria, so close that the Assyrians were able to assimilate themselves into the lives of the Israelites. The Assyrians were strong and offered protection for Israel. The people of both nations intermarried and the foreign gods became part of their daily living. They were politically secure and they were spiritually arrogant. They did not see the destruction that was happening to Israel from within – within their hearts.

The scene in today’s passage shows us a gathering of leaders, comfortably feasting in Samaria. The feasting lasted for days. It was opulent and excessive. Amos warns that they are ignoring the reality of their future, that invasion is near and the time of exile is much closer than they expect. The luxury in which they are wallowing is obvious – they lay on beds made of ivory and overindulged in the finest meats, wine and oil. Not only were they gorging themselves on the finest resources of Israel, while danger waited around the corner, they were using the resources that were meant for God. The choice lambs and fatted calves were meant for sacrifice. The bowls were taken from temple in Samaria, and originally part of religious ceremony. In this passage they were being used by the leaders to get drunk. The oil was also used for ceremonial services. In other words, they were not only ignoring the turning of Israel from God, they were stealing from Him to celebrate their prosperity and security.

Amos warns them that it will end. Though they thought they were safe and comfortable, they would be the first to fall. The leaders that thought their prosperity was the very sign that God was with them would be the first to realize that He had left them to fend for themselves. In this they would learn that not only is the Lord God Almighty ruler over Israel, but He is ruler over all the earth. He commands even the armies of His enemies, granting them the power over His people for the sake of the life and their future.

This warning should have brought those leaders to their knees, turned them back to the God of their fathers. They did not hear, ignoring the promise of downfall because they thought that they had done enough to earn God’s grace. They worshipped as was required, but they had forgotten what was most important – that God calls His people to practice justice and mercy. The leaders who gorged on the finest meat and lounged on ivory covered couches had no concern for the welfare of the people over whom they had been appointed. The reward for their indifference would be that they would lead their people into the exile. They would no longer have ivory covered couches or fine meats at extravagant feasts. They would suffer at the hands of those whom they trusted because they stopped trusting the only One who could give them peace.


September 21, 2007

Scriptures for September 30, 2007: Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31

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.

Anne Hathaway played a character named Andy Sachs in the recent movie “The Devil Wears Prada.” Her character was a journalist who was desperately seeking a job in New York, but she was having difficulty finding one. She was good at writing, but she had no experience, so the newspapers would not hire her. She finally settled for a job at “Runway” a fashion magazine as the second assistant to the editor. She was the underdog in that position. She wanted to be writing hard hitting news and saw fashion as a frivolous waste of time. However, she knew that if she could handle the job for a year, she could write her own ticket in any other publication. She was out of place and had little knowledge about the industry. She was tried and tested over and over again.

When she hit the point of quitting, she asked a friend what she was supposed to do. She said she had tried hard to do a good job and he responded that she hadn’t tried at all. She had not tried to conform, to fit in. He told her it appeared as though she thought herself better than the other girls at runway. So, at that moment she decided to make the changes necessary to fit in. She began wearing the designer clothes and she lived the job. She proved herself worthy of the position and even exceeded the expectations. She became better at the job than Emily, the girl who was the first assistant. Miranda Priestly, the editor, decided to take Andy on an important trip to Paris, in essence demoting Emily. Andy had to break the news to Emily. It broke her heart to do it, but she felt she had no choice.

Later in the movie, Miranda did something that really hurt Andy’s friend, pushing him aside for the sake of her own career. As the boss and Andy discussed this situation, Andy said, “I would never do that to my friend.” Miranda said, “Oh, but you did… to Emily.” Andy thought the situations were different, but in reality she had given up her integrity to get ahead. She had destroyed a relationship for the sake of her career. She put herself first so that she would no longer be an underdog.

Sometimes we think it is necessary to conform to the ways of the world so that we will get ahead, or get that job we want or to succeed in this life. We know that the underdog never wins. The underdog gets stepped on and pushed aside. So, we conform to the expectations of the world in which we live so that we will get ahead. The underdog is seen as a failure, as cursed and rejected. However, the underdog is usually the person who is not willing to conform. He or she is the one that puts integrity ahead of success, who is unwilling to lie, cheat or steal to prove they are the best.

In the end, Andy realized that she had made a big mistake. She realized that she was wrong to put herself ahead of her friend for the sake of a job. She walked away from “Runway” without a second thought, returning to the state of being an underdog in the working world for the sake of her integrity. She apologized to those whom she had hurt and restored those broken relationships. She even earned the respect of Miranda in the end, for making the choice to pursue what was right rather than what might have seemed best. She got a better job and was blessed.

God loves those who love Him. He is our help in our successes and our failures. He upholds us, gives us food, sets us free, gives us sight and lifts us up. He guides and guards us when we are far from home or when we have lost those we love. He protects us from our enemies. He is the Lord God Almighty and our hope is found in Him, through the blood of Jesus Christ. We often experience being the underdog in our home, work and social activities. Sometimes it is our faith that puts us in that position. It is so tempting to conform to the ways around us, to do what we need to do to fit in or to succeed according to the expectations of the world around us. However, there is blessedness in the life of the underdog who lives by faith because God regards those in humble circumstances. When we are the underdog, we look to someone greater for our help and hope. As people of faith, it is God to whom we turn. There we will be blessed.


September 24, 2007

Scriptures for September 30, 2007: Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31

1 Timothy 6:6-19 But godliness with contentment is great gain: for we brought nothing into the world, for neither can we carry anything out; but having food and covering we shall be therewith content. But they that are minded to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil: which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of the faith, lay hold on the life eternal, whereunto thou wast called, and didst confess the good confession in the sight of many witnesses. I charge thee in the sight of God, who giveth life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed the good confession; that thou keep the commandment, without spot, without reproach, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: which in its own times he shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in light unapproachable; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and power eternal. Amen. Charge them that are rich in this present world, that they be not highminded, nor have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, that they be ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on the life which is life indeed. O Timothy, guard that which is committed unto thee, turning away from the profane babblings and oppositions of the knowledge which is falsely so called; which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with you.

I read a story today about a man who lost his job. He had been working as an advertising executive at a good firm, doing very well for himself. But then things went awry. He lost his job, set aside for someone as he says, “younger and cheaper.” He had been in the job for twenty-five years and it was what he knew and loved. He tried to establish his own firm, thinking that with his experience he would do well on his own. It failed. He got sick. His wife divorced him and his pregnant girlfriend left him because he was no longer rich. His world was crashing down around him.

He had become desperate and took a part time job at Starbucks because they had decent benefits. He found life again. He found that he enjoyed being part of the servant class. He found happiness. He wrote a book entitled, “How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else,” and Universal recently purchased the movie rights to his life story. His life is not quite as normal as the rest of us, but he has realized that there is joy in having an ordinary job and living an ordinary life. Despite the recent sale of his story, he will continue to work his part-time job – not for the money, but because it has changed his life. To him, the job at Starbucks was the catalyst of a spiritual rebirth. Though he is not sure the people from his old life would understand his choices, he is happy and content with serving coffee to his customers.

Paul writes to Timothy, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” He does not say that money is the root of all evil, he says that it is the love of money that is the root of all evil. We put so much importance into money in our society. We need money to pay for everything we have. We need enough money to pay the rent or mortgage. We need money to buy food. We need money to purchase the clothes for our backs. They bible does not tell us that we have to live without money to be happy, but that we are to find contentment in what we do have. In other words, we do not need to chase after more and more money so that we can have bigger and better things.

Unfortunately, we think we need the bigger house, the faster car and the fancier clothes. We think we need to eat at expensive restaurants to be happy. In our society, too many people live lifestyles that are far above their resources, hoping to find happiness in places and things. They aren’t content with what they have, so they chase after what they want. This is why so many families are burdened by huge debts. Some people have taken financial risks that could mean loosing everything. Like the man in the story, we do not know when we might lose our job, get sick or suffer other problems.

In this passage, Paul is writing to us about restraint, that we should be satisfied with enough. It is when we desire more than enough that we fall into error, easily deceived and led astray. In today’s world, it is necessary to pay the rent, have a car and purchase our food from the grocery store. Our troubles occur when we insist that we need those things that are bigger, faster and fancier. We find contentment in the simple life, like the man who found life at Starbucks. We find joy, also, when we use the excess wealth which we have been given to do kindness and mercy to others. May God help us do so as good stewards of the resources He has given so that we might live content and happy in this world.


September 25, 2007

Scriptures for September 30, 2007: Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31

Luke 16:19-31 Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day: and a certain beggar named Lazarus was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table; yea, even the dogs come and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels into Abraham's bosom: and the rich man also died, and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things: but now here he is comforted and thou art in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that they that would pass from hence to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from thence to us. And he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house; for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. But Abraham saith, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one go to them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead.

In this story, Lazarus is obviously very sick. He has sores all over his body and he is so hungry that he is willing to eat the crumbs which are given for the dogs. Lazarus is poor, not only in money, but also in flesh and in friends. He did not have anyone to care for his needs – those apparently responsible for him were so uncaring that they simply laid him at the gate of a rich man in the hopes that he might get some compassion and help. The only ones who showed any concern were the dogs who came and licked his wounds, which was not pleasant. It was offensive.

The rich man is exactly the opposite. Not only is he so wealthy that he has a home with a gate and food enough to eat, but he is apparently healthy and surrounded by friends. The rich man never noticed the sick man at his gate, distracted as he was with all the good things he enjoyed. The differences between these two men are obvious and we would be right, both in our society and in the society in which they lived, to say that the rich man had been blessed and the poor man was cursed.

However, Jesus turns the story upside down – both men die and come to very different fates. Lazarus is carried away on wings of angels to live for eternity with Abraham. He was so alone in this world that he did not even have anyone to dispose properly of his body. He was probably not even missed as those responsible for him were relieved to be set free from the burden. The rich man was buried, most certainly with great pomp and mourning. Perhaps the family even hired people to fill his funeral with tears and cries of grief. He probably had a fine casket and an expensive tomb. Those whom he left behind shared in his blessedness even after he was gone.

This is where the story turns. The rich man, who had been blessed in his life, found himself suffering the torment of Hades. To add to the torture was the fact that the rich man could see Abraham caring for Lazarus in his bosom. He could see Lazarus blessed with a place in heaven, but there was no way for him to be part of that blessedness. He cried out to Abraham, “Have mercy on me.” All he wanted was a drop of water for his tongue. Abraham could not provide for his needs and answered, “Child, remember that you received your blessings in life and Lazarus suffered. Now it is time for Lazarus to be blessed.” Abraham had compassion and concern for the rich man. He still called him “child,” however the chasm between the two was too great for Abraham to cross.

The rich man realized his failure and wanted Abraham to send Lazarus to tell his family. He wanted them to tell his family how to live so that they would not have to suffer the same torment. Abraham was unable to provide this service to the rich man also. He said, “They have Moses and the prophets.” The rich man argued that they need something drastic to help them see the truth of what they knew from Moses and the prophets. These are not bad people. Wealth, in itself, is not bad. They were probably even good Jews, doing all that was expected and living according to the Law as they knew it. However, they had forgotten the intent of the Law – that all God’s people would share in His kingdom on earth. They had forgotten that they are blessed to be a blessing, that they are given good things to share with those who do not have good things. They had forgotten that true joy came with living by faith, being content with enough and giving the excess to the glory of God.

Lazarus was obviously sick in body, but the rich man had a less obvious dis-ease. He was sick in spirit, separated from God by his apathy and blindness to the needs around him. While Lazarus will live for eternity in the bosom of God, the rich man will suffer without the love and mercy of Christ Jesus. This is a message we all need to hear – so that we will make a difference in the lives of those who are suffering. Jesus is not telling us that we have to be sick or poor to be admitted into heaven. He is not telling us that the rich will automatically be sent to Hades. He is reminding us to not be so distracted by the things of this world that we miss out on seeing those who need mercy and grace. We have been blessed to be a blessing and that it is in sharing the Kingdom of God with others that we will know the joy and peace of eternal life.


September 26, 2007

Scriptures for September 30, 2007: Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31

Charge them that are rich in this present world, that they be not highminded, nor have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, that they be ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on the life which is life indeed.

Sunday, September 30th is the day we remember St. Jerome, who was a biblical scholar and translator. Jerome is credited with the Latin Vulgate of the Bible, which was the official version of the Bible used by the Catholic Church for nearly a thousand years. Jerome lived at a time when the church was still developing the canon; they were still trying to establish which words were inspired words given by God to transmit His message to future generations. Unfortunately, there were dozens of version available to the priests in the fourth and fifth centuries, so many diverse ideas that it was difficult for them to even understand the text about which they were preaching.

Since it was so confusing, Pope Damasus asked Jerome to create a reliable translation by correcting some of the errors found in those diverse versions of the texts. Jerome’s work was controversial in many ways – he used common Latin instead of the classical Latin preferred by the scholars of his day. He began his work using the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, but even though it was considered inspired by most of the theologians he soon decided that it was flawed, preferring to use the original Hebrew for translation. Jerome also translated many of the writings attributed to the early church fathers, making them more accessible by using the common language of the day.

We do not know very much about Jerome’s story. The resources do not agree about any of his details like his date of birth and his parentage. One resource claimed that he was born of Christian parents and another claimed he was born of wealthy pagan parents. Few of the biographies even mention financial status of Jerome, unlike the biographies of so many of the saints. In their stories we often hear about men or women who had been born and raised into wealthy families who gave up everything to dedicate their lives to God. That isn’t the case with Jerome, so it seems like he would not be a good example to use with our texts this week.

However, Jerome had another sort of wealth. He was very gifted in words. He was gifted in language, translation, exegesis and interpretation. He might have taken his gifts and used them as so many of the other theologians and writers – specifically for the educated, the academics and the intellectuals. Instead, Jerome translated the texts into a language that could be understood by the common man. Though most people could not read and they did not have access to the books, they did hear the sermons given by the priests who were often little more than ordinary folk with little education and resources. The work of Jerome made the scriptures and other resources understandable to those listening in the pew as well as more accessible for the priests who needed to preach to the people.

He used his wealth – not necessarily money, but his gifts – for the sake of the whole. He could have done what all the other translators felt was right – to use classical Latin for translation. He felt it was important, however, to share the gift in a manner that would benefit more people. Classical Latin would have kept his work hidden behind the doors of academia and though it might have trickled down to the common people eventually, it did not seem to be happening in his day. Many priests were uneducated and unable to share the Gospel properly – thus the persistent heresies in the church. Instead of crumbs from his table, we see that Jerome shared the food of life with the people in a way that is still impacting us today.


September 27, 2007

Scriptures for October 7, 2007: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; Psalm 37:1-9; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see. O Jehovah, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear? I cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save. Why dost thou show me iniquity, and look upon perverseness? for destruction and violence are before me; and there is strife, and contention riseth up. Therefore the law is slacked, and justice doth never go forth; for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore justice goeth forth perverted… I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will look forth to see what he will speak with me, and what I shall answer concerning my complaint. And Jehovah answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tablets, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for the appointed time, and it hasteth toward the end, and shall not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not delay. Behold, his soul is puffed up, it is not upright in him; but the righteous shall live by his faith. (ASV)

The American Standard Version of today’s text uses a very appropriate word for what we read. The book of Habakkuk is a conversation between God and the prophet which serves as an oracle for the people of Israel. This oracle is a burden for the prophet. As we read the text, Habakkuk appears to be a whiner, crying out to God about His slow response to the injustice in Israel. “How long?” he asks. Habakkuk is speaking for all the righteous in Israel who have waited so long to hear God’s answer to the wickedness in His people. Habakkuk simply can not understand why God is allowing evil to rule in the world. He does not understand why God is not disciplining His people so that they will turn back to Him.

Sound familiar? How many of us have cried out with the same sense of wonder at the delay of God’s justice? We are frustrated by the suffering we see in the world, uncertain how God could seemingly have no concern for His people. Habakkuk knows that the people have sinned against God, but he also knows that God can make them turn back. He asks, “How long?” He wants to know how long it will be until God brings His people to repentance.

The answer that he received was even more shocking. God answered that the Babylonians would discipline the people of Israel. Habakkuk was upset by this answer because he could not understand how God could use an even more ungodly nation to do such an important work. Here is the burden that Habakkuk suffered – to see the future of His people, a future that would include pain, exile and more injustice. This is not pleasant for anyone to hear, but prophets are often burdened with visions of things they would rather not see. God’s answer was not what Habakkuk wanted to hear. It was shocking and disturbing to thing that God would use wickedness against His own people. But God assures Habakkuk that this is just the beginning of the story.

God works in His own time. We look around us and see a world that is full of injustice and suffering and we wonder when God will bring change to the world. God answers our cry with a promise, “Though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come.” Babylon would bring Israel to her knees, but God had not forgotten His people. Babylon would also see God’s justice and Israel would be restored. God knows what He is doing and He knows the time. We only know a see a small part of God’s plan and we are called to trust that God does know what He is doing. We do not want to wait, but that is why we live by faith. Our faithful and faith filled response to God’s grace is trusting that He will do what is right when it is right.


September 28, 2007

Scriptures for October 7, 2007: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; Psalm 37:1-9; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

Psalm 37:1-9 Fret not thyself because of evil-doers, neither be thou envious against them that work unrighteousness. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Trust in Jehovah, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on his faithfulness. Delight thyself also in Jehovah; and he will give thee the desires of thy heart. Commit thy way unto Jehovah; trust also in him, and he will bring it to pass. And he will make thy righteousness to go forth as the light, and thy justice as the noon-day. Rest in Jehovah, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, Because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.

Bruce has been home lately, in between jobs with the company for which he has been working. That is the joy of retirement – being able to piddle around the house fiddling with the little things that need to be done. He is also able to linger over a cup of coffee, do the crossword puzzles and take a nap in the afternoon if that is what he wants to do. He spent a good deal of time yesterday working out in the yard. He pulled weeds out of our flower garden and cleaned the pond. It was hot work; he came in sweaty and tired, but satisfied with his work. It was obvious all he had done.

I still haven’t found a job, but I have been trying to be more vigorous about my writing. I have been doing some online freelance work. I am editing some of my previous words into a book for Advent which I hope to self-publish very soon. I have applied to do some writing for a publishing house and have been researching other possibilities. My work yesterday was done almost entirely on the computer. My accomplishments for the day were not visible like Bruce’s and I felt a bit like I had not accomplished anything. We have a much greater sense of accomplishment when there is a visible difference in our environment. I feel like I have done something when my house looks clean. I don’t always feel that way when I have written a devotional or completed editing a book, even though those tasks might actually have a greater impact in the world.

Habakkuk cried out “How long?” fretting over what he sees as wickedness in the people of Israel and the world in which he lived. He fretted about the wickedness of the enemies whom God planned to use to bring Israel to repentance. He could not see the work God was doing in the world and was even considering how to take justice into his own hands.

I think it is interesting that the word “fret” comes from an old English root word that means “to eat or devour.” Fretting, or worrying, often seems like a very passive thing. Nothing is accomplished; there is no visible evidence of our worry. But it is really a very active word – we eat at and devour our problems, making them a part of our entire being. Doctors will tell you that worry can cause major physical problems including stomach and heart problems, muscular tension and headaches. A little bit of worry can lead to serious health complications. Worry never helps the problem and often creates even bigger ones.

It is ok to be concerned about the things that affect our lives. Concern about our future can make us actively pursue a job or accomplish the things that need to be done around the house. But when we fret about these things it becomes part of our whole being. Then we obsess about the problems and possibly even take matters into our own hands. Worry fills our life and we stop trusting in God.

The Psalmist says, “Do not fret about evil-doers.” This is not just about worrying that our enemies are going to do something to harm us. A healthy concern might help us to stay safe or take positive action that will bring reconciliation and peace. However, fretting over the problem will do nothing. When we fret, we eat at it and devour it, making so much a part of our life that we lose control over our response. Instead of taking positive action, we take control. Unfortunately, we do not always know the whole story. We do not know what God has already accomplished toward His purpose in the situation. When we fret, we do not trust that God is at work and that He will be true to His promises.

Sometimes God’s work is very visible. Sometimes there is a physical change in the environment or in the person who has been touched by His grace. Sometimes the changes are less visible. They are inward or long in coming to fruition. However, God is at work and He is faithful. Instead of fretting over our problems, we are to feed on His faithfulness. Instead of devouring our worries, we are to dwell in God’s heart. As we delight in God’s grace, we will receive all that we need. We may not receive the answers we see today, or tomorrow, but God has promised peace to His people and that peace is found in contentment and trust in God.


September 29, 2007


September 30, 2007