Welcome to the September 2015 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 2015

September 1, 2015

"For though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, not being without law to God, but under law to Christ, that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak: I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the gospel's sake, that I may be a joint partaker thereof." 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, ASV

Before the days of the Food Network, there was a television chef that I loved to watch. His name was Pasquale Carpino, and he broadcasted out of Canada. Chef Carpino was known for making several course meals in a matter of minutes, anywhere from eighteen to twenty-two. He always ended his show by pouring a glass of wine for some lucky member of the studio audience who was chosen to try the food. He was also known for singing opera while he cooked. He loved his job and it showed in the way he worked on camera.

Pasquale's style was simple but good food, with little preparation. He often focused on the men, showing them that it was not difficult to impress a lady with a fine meal. He showed shortcuts that might seem wasteful to us, but made the act of cooking more accessible to men who might find the tediousness of following a recipe, peeling potatoes and chopping vegetables into neat equally sized pieces impossible. For him, it was important to put a delicious plate of food in front of that special someone rather than spend hours laboring in the kitchen to create a masterpiece.

He taught me to be bold in the kitchen. He taught me that I shouldn't be afraid of the food or worry about the crazy details. It is all about learning how food fits together, experimenting with flavors and textures, and finding a way to show our love for one another through food. I liked watching him because he did not follow recipes. He didn't measure a cup of this and a teaspoon of that, but added what was necessary. I'm sure he knew the science of cooking and didn't throw in too much of this or not enough of that, but most of his dishes didn't need that kind of precision. He even went to the pantry and grabbed cans of food to throw in the pot. This was a tip he gave to those bachelors who aren't any better at grocery shopping.

I will admit that I don't much like recipes. I suppose that's why I liked Chef Carpino so much. He once said, "There are three things in the world you cannot repeat exactly the same: sing a song, sign your name, and a recipe." I have learned that to be true, especially if you don't really follow that recipe to the letter. It is even truer if the recipe says, "Pull whatever can of vegetables you have in the pantry and whichever pasta you have available and throw it in the pot." I often joked with my husband, "I hope you don't like it too much because I doubt if I will ever remember how I made it."

I will often think of something I want to try and then search the Internet for recipes. However, I usually just look to get an idea about cooking times and temperatures. I read multiple recipes so that I can pick and choose the ingredients and outcome that I imagined at first. It usually works although I've learned my share of what not to do during these experiments. My family is still alive and perhaps has a little too much to show around the waistline for my efforts, so I must be doing something right. I always joke, however, that Gordon Ramsey wouldn't like my food because I haven't followed all the rules.

I don't want to suggest that our lives of faith should be adlibbed the way I throw things in the pot at dinnertime. We should never pick and choose what we like about the scriptures. I do, however, believe that there's room in God's grace to find what works together for the sake of those to whom we are feeding the Word. See, one neighbor might desperately need a word of comfort, another a word of rebuke and yet another a word of encouragement. One word won't work as well for everyone because we all have different needs. We all are at a different place in our journey. We all have different experiences that either build upon or stand in the way of our hearing God's message of forgiveness and peace. It is up to us to find the word that will break through hard hearts, to share the Gospel in a way that it will be heard. We must, as Paul suggests, put into the pot what we have (our gifts and God's Word) and scoop out what they need: a rich, filling, satisfying meal of grace.


September 2, 2015

Scriptures for Sunday, September 6, 2015, Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; James 2:1-10, 14-18; Mark 7:(24-30) 31-37

"For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all." James 2:10, ASV

The writers of the lectionary occasionally carve out certain verses in the midst of a passage. The reasons for this are varied. It often seems obvious that they have done so because those verses include some harsh or difficult saying. I've often said that it bothers me that they do so because it seems as if they have removed any sense of our sinfulness. As I prepare for this writing on these days, I always look at those verses because sometimes the key to the text is actually found there.

I once heard a lecture by an expert in liturgical things, and he said that those verses are not removed simply because we have become offended by the idea of sin. Instead, he said, the verses are not read because the focus of the entire lectionary is centered on another perspective. In other words, the entire passage may be about one thing, and the removed texts may be a side note about something completely different. There are times when the scripture writings insert a thought in the middle of the text, that is important, but not always pertinent to the whole.

In today's case, the three verses expound upon verse 10, but the passage as a whole is about how we judge others. This is not a passage about eternal judgment, but about how we treat our neighbors based on our understanding of their lives. James focuses on the difference between how the rich and the poor are treated. We cozy up to the rich because we know that they can be of some benefit to us, but we ignore the poor because there is nothing they can do for us.

What I found interesting about the missing verses is the two commandments James decided to use in this comparison. "For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou dost not commit adultery, but killest, thou art become a transgressor of the law." We know that these things are wrong. Even in modern America where too many people are frivolous with their love, renaming adulterous behavior and justifying certain infidelities as being harmless, we admit that adultery and murder are wrong. We have a little more trouble with some of the other commandments, however. Do we not covet? Do we not have idols? Do we not steal and cheat and lie? Oh, we don't rob banks or scam our neighbors, but that little white lie is still a lie. I once knew a woman who justified keeping the extra dollar a cashier gave her by saying, "It was her mistake and God knew I needed that dollar today." She praised God for her sinful behavior instead of considering that He was watching her dishonesty. She accepted His grace without admitting her sinfulness. Where is her faith?

Faith does not justify sin. Faith admits our sinfulness and trusts in God's mercy. Faith recognizes that we are sinners in need of a Savior and that Jesus Christ is the one who has saved us. We might be able to point to a good life, but there are truly none of us who are good. Our good works will never save us, but James asks, "Do we have faith if we do not live as God has called us to live?" Do we have faith if we justify our sin? Do we have faith if we treat people according to what we see on the outside? Do we have faith if we seek what is best for ourselves rather than doing that which God expects of us?

When James asks "Can faith save you?" in relation to the good works he is describing, he isn't suggesting that good works will save a person. What he is saying is that those who are saved, those who live in the faith that comes from grace, those people will have the same mercy on those whom they see that need to be saved. When we see someone who is hungry or naked, we'll offer them what they need. It is not enough to wish them well in their hunger and nakedness. James writes, "If a brother or sister be naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body; what doth it profit?"

Faith without works is a dead faith, not a living faith. Just as the God who comes to save us does so in an active and powerful way, so too we are sent into the world to be God's hands and share His grace with others. Isaiah talks about the work God is going to do in the world. The eyes of the blind will be open, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame shall leap like a dear and the tongue of the speechless will sing for joy. God will take those who can't do things and make them people who can. Faith is about action. It is about seeing, hearing, leaping and singing! And then it is about going out in the world to help others see, hear, leap and sing. God gives us the faith and in that faith we do.

The first story in today's Gospel lesson is a bit odd because it seems so out of character for Jesus, however in this story we see Jesus teaching a lesson to those listening through a woman of great faith. Jesus knew her heart. He knew she was there because she believed. He knew that faith gave her a humble understanding of her place in the world but also the faith to know that God is merciful. She receives the mercy she seeks not because she deserves it, but because she seeks it from the One who can grant it. That is faith.

The Psalmist writes, "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no hope." Instead we are called to trust in God who gives hope to those who look to Him for help. God is not limited, He will not perish. He has created the world and all that is in it. His presence transforms, brings healing and peace. He sets the prisoner free and feeds those who are hungry. "Jehovah preserveth the sojourners; He upholdeth the fatherless and the widow." God calls us to be His hands and His feet and His mouth in this world - to be His presence among those who need His grace.

James writes. "Hearken, my beloved brethren; did not God choose them that are poor as to the world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he promised to them that love him?" Jesus didn't heal the ones who knew the prophecies and had memorized the Psalms. He didn't heal the ones who were righteous according to their own understanding, relying upon themselves for salvation. He spoke a word of hope to those who were weak and afraid.

I suppose it is natural to be drawn to those who have wealth. After all, people with wealth can get things done. If a wealthy person is happy, they might just do something that makes our life better in some way. Yet James asks, "Do you really manifest faith in Christ by showing favoritism to the rich?" By favoring the rich we trust in them more than we trust in our God to provide us what we need. This favoritism is divisive and judgmental. Even worse, however, is that we miss out on an even greater wealth in the hearts of the poor, for God has given them such a great measure of faith and love.

We who have been given mercy have been called to be merciful. This means that we don't judge one another by our outer appearances, but by our needs. Does your neighbor need a meal? A shoulder on which to cry? Do they need to be reminded of their failure to live up to God's expectations and that God has provided the way of salvation and forgiveness through Jesus Christ?

We all need grace and we have been called through faith to offer grace to one another. We all fail to keep the law; we all fail to honor God. We might not murder or even commit adultery, but we follow our hearts and satisfy ourselves even when it goes against God's Word. The good news is that Jesus came to fulfill the promises found in the Old Testament lesson from Isaiah.

Great and wonderful things will happen: the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk and the mute will shout for joy. The desolation of the wilderness will be transformed into a place of praise and beauty. Can you hear God's faith-filled people singing today's Psalm? "Praise the LORD, O my soul. I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live."

When we are weak and afraid, God speaks a word of hope into our lives. We are not what we know we should be and we see the imperfection of the world around us. We worry and wonder what will happen tomorrow. Can we be saved? We are reminded that God had not forsaken His people. He has come to bring healing and peace. In Him, despite our failure, hope is found in the Lord. We will fail. We will sin. But God has given us faith and has called us to a life of trust. He is transforming the world and has promised that the day will come when everything is right. Until that day, He invites us to be His hands and feet in this world, sharing His grace in word and deed, shining His light through a living faith that doesn't just speak, but does.


September 3, 2015

"And again he went out from the borders of Tyre, and came through Sidon unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the borders of Decapolis. And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to lay his hand upon him. And he took him aside from the multitude privately, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And his ears were opened, and the bond of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it. And they were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well; he maketh even the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak." Mark 7:31-37, ASV

Sometimes it is difficult to cover every part of the lectionary as it is assigned, simply because there is just too much to explore. Today's passage is part of yesterday's lectionary which I didn't discuss since my focus was on our inability to keep the Law and God's mercy that grants us forgiveness for our failure. Today's passage points directly back to the Old Testament promise that the Messiah would come and would bring healing and restoration to God's people. Mark reminds us of that promise, that the Messiah would make the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.

Jesus often makes it look so easy. In the story of the Syrophoenician woman, Jesus was not even in the same place as the sick daughter. The woman's pleas came to Him with the faith that He could heal her daughter, and though she sought Him, she didn't beg Him to go with her. She trusted that His word was enough. When He said the demon was gone, she left with the assurance of faith that it was true. She went home and found her daughter well. There are other stories where it took just a word from Jesus to heal the sick and cast out the demons.

Yet, in today's story, the deaf man with a speech impediment, the promise is much more complicated. Jesus sticks His fingers in the man's ears, spits and then touches the man's tongue. Then He looked up to heaven, sighed and said, "Be opened!" Immediately the man could hear and speak again. This is amazing. We don't know how long the man has been deaf, but it is likely that the speech impediment was related to his lack of hearing; it is difficult to form the words if you can't hear how they sound, not only from outside your head, but from your own mouth. It always takes time after someone's hearing is restored for them to learn to speak again.

The man's ears were loosened and his tongue was loosed. It is interesting that the man's friends simply wanted Jesus to lay His hands upon their friend. They knew that just a touch or a word from Jesus would make a difference in his life. Jesus, however, used this opportunity to make a powerful point to His disciples: I'm not just here to fulfill scripture and heal people, I'm here to open ears and loose tongues. See, many people sought after Jesus so that they would be touched and healed, but Jesus came for a much more important purpose. He came to reveal God's Kingdom, to set people free from sin and to restore them to their Father in Heaven.

This story ties the opening of the ears to the loosing of the tongue. When the man was healed, Jesus told them not to tell anyone, and yet they could not keep their tongues from speaking. The more He told them to be silent, the more they kept talking about it! See, they recognized the grace and mercy of God in Jesus' act of healing. Their ears were opened to hear God's Word, not only the deaf man, but also his friends. Once hearing the Word, how could they be silent?

The question for us today is if our ears have been opened and we hear the Word of God, how can we be silent? We should, as the deaf man and his friends, be so thankful for God's grace that we can't keep from telling the world. As in the words of the psalmist in this week's Psalm, "While I live will I praise Jehovah: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being."


September 4, 2015

"Now we that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each one of us please his neighbor for that which is good, unto edifying. For Christ also pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell upon me. For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the scriptures we might have hope. Now the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be of the same mind one with another according to Christ Jesus: that with one accord ye may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, even as Christ also received you, to the glory of God." Romans 15:1-7, ASV

It is estimated that about one third of the world's population is Christian. The percentage is much higher in the United States with an estimated 73% are Christian. There are those who suggest that this number is too high. Among Christians, about 40% claim to attend church regularly, although the numbers indicate that it is more likely only 20% who do. So while many people believe in Jesus Christ, a large number of us have better things to do on a Sunday morning.

It is easy for those of us who are actively involved in our church community to question the faith of those we don't see in our midst, especially if their daily lives don't seem to follow our expectations of the Christian life. I've heard many a Christian reject others because they spend Sundays on the soccer field or golf course, adhere to a different political ideology, choose the wrong charities or shop at the wrong stores. Some even doubt the faith of those who belong to and attend different denominations. I have to admit that I feel that way myself sometimes. I wonder, "How can someone claim to be Christian and think this or do that?" I think we all do sometimes. After all, there are wolves in sheep's clothing and we must beware that we do not let them lead us astray.

But think about what it must have been like in the early days of the Church. There were two separate incarnations: the Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah and the Gentiles who received His Word with a saving faith. The differences between these two groups were as night and day. They had to learn to live together the Gentiles could never fully understand what it meant to be a Jew and the Jews believed that they were chosen to be separate, different, unique. Even Peter and Paul argued over this problem, but they both learned that God was calling them to share the Gospel in different ways to different types of people.

Yes, Christians should be recognizable and the world sees us by our actions which includes our attendance at worship with the fellowship of believers. However, it does not help the church to reject or point fingers at those who do not fit our expectations. It does nothing to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ to say that they are not Christian or even call them other names. If they are not truly saved, then our rejection will only push them further away and it will cause those in the world who are not Christian to doubt faith in Jesus Christ.

We are called to encourage one another in the faith. Rather than assuming one is not a Christian, perhaps we would serve them better by speaking and teaching the Word of God so that faith will be fanned and grow into the kind of fire that manifests in a life that glorifies God. We were all once weak, but faith isn't given to us to make us haughty. God saves us to make us holy. In speaking God's Word to both believers and unbelievers, we reveal Him to all and glorify Him to those who already love the story and those who desperately need His story so that we all might live in His presence eternally.


September 7, 2015

"Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the Gentiles the same? Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:38-48, ASV

A woman posted a listing of craft supplies that she wanted to sell to a Facebook page I follow. I didn't really need everything she pictured, but we came to an agreement and worked out a time and place to meet to complete transaction. She has a hectic job and my schedule is flexible, and so even though I prefer doing that kind of thing on weekdays, I told her that I would meet her on Saturday. I even volunteered to travel all the way across town to make it easier and more convenient for her. We arranged to meet at one of my favorite restaurants near my old house at 11:30. My plan was to eat lunch right after we made the exchange and she said that she might just try the place, too. I left home at 11:00 so I would be there on time.

I arrived on time and waited for fifteen minutes outside the restaurant. When she did not arrive by 11:45, I went in, ordered my lunch and sat right next to the door. I didn't worry too much about it because she knew I was going to eat and I knew that she thought about eating there, too. I looked forward to the possibility of getting to know someone new as we shared a meal together. I took my time while I ate my lunch and watched as people came and went. I couldn't see the entire parking lot, but I could see if she came inside and though she was a stranger, I had a general idea of her appearance from her Facebook profile. No one who entered matched her photo.

I gave up at 12:30, went to my car and went about the rest of my day. The trip was not wasted because I enjoyed my lunch, but I never would have taken the time on Saturday to do it. I arrived home at 3:00 after a few extra stops along the way. At my computer I discovered that she'd tried private messaging me on Facebook multiple times between 11:00 and 12:30. She didn't even leave her home until 11:38, and messaged me at 11:49 that she was there. At 12:00 she messaged that she was going to get some lunch at another restaurant and that she had a 1:00 appointment. She messaged one more time asking if I was there. Of course, I didn't see any of these messages until 3:00.

See, I don't do Facebook on my cell phone. Many might think that I live in caveman times, but I have chosen to keep my phone a phone (I do text) and I don't carry the Internet with me anywhere. When I explained via private message that I don't do Facebook on my phone and that I didn't see her messages, she got angry, answered with a snotty response, and then blocked me from further contact. The whole thing could have been avoided if she'd been on time or even if she had popped her head in the door to see if I was there. In her mind, it was my fault because I didn't answer her messages.

I wonder how many times we miss an opportunity because we are not willing to go the extra mile. I'm not sure what I could have done to make things better on Saturday, but I know that I have been to blame in other situations. I am sure that I could have avoided arguments and broken relationships if I had just tried a little harder. I am sure I could have helped others in ways that would have made a difference if I had just done that one more thing. We give up too easily, especially when we fall back on our own ideas and expectations, forgetting that others do not always live life as we do. We do not try to see the world and the problem through their eyes, to see if there is something else we can do. Worst of all, we blame others for our own sinfulness, refusing to take responsibility for our own failure. Of course, the woman is not my enemy and I do not hate her, but I am not so sure the same is true of her. We often think of those who do not satisfy our expectations in hateful ways.

Jesus turns the world upside down; He expects from us more than the world can ever demand. The world may say it is ok to jump to assumptions, to reject those who do not satisfy our expectations. The world encourages us to name enemies and to respond to our disappointment with hate. Jesus, however, tells us to love. He tells us to give our enemies more than they ask. He tells us to walk that extra mile. Today's text discusses revenge, but could we not avoid many of our problems in this world if we simply went above and beyond expectations by considering every situation through the eyes of the other?


September 8, 2015

"Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." Matthew 5:14-16, ASV

Ok, so I have to admit that I have a lot of days when I feel extremely pessimistic. The world around us is falling apart. People are offended by the silliest things. Anger, hatred and violence rule the streets. The news is filled with negative stories and instead of balancing with some positive things, the anchors act foolish with giggling at jokes that just aren't funny. Black is white, bad is good and everything is about sex. The politicians make all the same promises that they don't intend to keep and they spend most of their time knocking each other off pedestals rather than accomplishing anything of value. Even in the Church you see too much greed, idolatry, hatred and hedonism. We live in a world where it seems darkness reigns and I cry out daily, "Come, Lord Jesus," because Jesus is the only One who can make all things right.

Jesus is the Light.

Have you ever noticed that a light seems to give off more light in darkness than in light? This is a phenomenon I noticed in the pantry of our last house. The light bulb didn't change, but for some reason, the pantry was always brighter at night than it was during the day. The light gets lost in the light. But light always overcomes the darkness, and the darker it is, the brighter the light seems. Jesus came the first time into a very dark world. Though the circumstances were different, people and practices were parallel. Black was white and bad was good. Even the religious community was filled with ideas and actions that were ungodly.

Jesus shined His light into a world that needed to be lit by love and mercy. He was so much more visible in that world because He was Light in the darkness. If we look through the history of the Church, we will discover that the greatest faith revivals have happened at the darkest times in the world. God's grace shines all the more clearly when it is needed the most. I cry, "Come, Lord Jesus," but I am certain that people have been voicing that cry for two thousand years now, and while it may seem as though He is too long in coming, we can trust that while we long for the great Day of the Lord, He is still here among us shining His light in and through us into the world.

Jesus is the Light. He shines in us.

See, we long for Jesus to come, and too many of us wait quietly, hidden from view because we are afraid of the threats of the world. Or we are discouraged. We don't believe we can make a difference. We are disappointed because we just want Jesus to come take care of it all for us. We hide His light under those bushels, waiting for a better time to shine. But Jesus calls us to be light in this world, to be the lamps that He uses to overcome the darkness. Instead of hiding, He sends us out into the world to be Christ to our neighbors, to take forgiveness, to share our gifts, to feed those who hunger in their bellies and in their souls. He sends us out to glorify God with our lives, to spark the revival that will bring hope to a world filled with darkness.


September 9, 2015

Scriptures for Sunday, September 13, 2015, Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Isaiah 50:4-10; Psalm 116:1-9; James 3:1-12; Mark 9:14-29

"And he said unto them, This kind can come out by nothing, save by prayer." Mark 9:29, ASV

There's a picture that is making the rounds on the Internet of an iceberg from the side. The water level is near the top, showing only a small portion of the iceberg. The overwhelming majority of the iceberg is normally unseen below the surface. The words on the picture state that a pastor's sermon is just the tip of the iceberg, and that the preparation is a majority of the work. In other words, you pastor put hours of prayer and study into that twenty minute sermon you heard last weekend.

I was talking with a friend who is a pastor and who has done some mentoring of pastors in training. He approached one in the days leading up to a preaching opportunity and asked to see her notes. She didn't have any, explaining that she would let the Holy Spirit speak through her. She approached the podium that day with great expectations, but stumbled over every sentence and left the congregation bewildered and unfed. She was disappointed and asked my friend, "Why didn't God put the words into my mouth?"

She forgot that it takes more than confidence and opportunity to share God's Word. We have to be prepared through prayer and study. We have to be familiar with the text and everything about it. We have to know who is speaking and who is listening. We have to know how the thoughts fit together so that we can apply it to the world in which we live. We have to be prepared. God doesn't just fill us with words in our mouth, but through study and prayer He fills us with His Word in every cell of our being. An adlib sermon can work, but not without hours of preparation.

I have had the privilege to preach about a dozen times over the years. My first opportunity happened when we lived in England. We were getting close to moving back to the United States and the vicar of the local church we attended asked if I would give my testimony at our last service. I agreed and began thinking about what I would say. The vicar and I met one day to discuss my message, and it was that meeting that Antony first used the word "sermon." I was a bit taken aback because that word put so much more pressure on what I needed to say.

We talked about the lectionary and the focus for that Sunday. It just happened to be the story of the feeding of the five thousand, where Philip argues that they don't have the resources to get enough food to feed them all, but Andrew points out the boy with five loaves and two fish. I talked about how we don't think we have enough but if we trust God even our miniscule gifts will be more than enough. I shared this lesson in the midst of my story, encouraging others to grasp onto every opportunity to serve God because He can use our meager portions in extraordinary and miraculous ways.

That's what basically came out in the end as I stood before the congregation, but I have to admit that I struggled for more than a week on that message. I tried to write a sermon. I tried to put words on paper, even an outline, so that I would be prepared. I prayed. I read. I studied. I thought it out and talked it out, but it never quite came together. I was extremely nervous when I stood up that Sunday, but the words tumbled out of my mouth and God spoke through me to those listening. As we left church that morning, many asked, "Why didn't we know you could do that?" and I laughed because I didn't know how I did it. I do know that I would not have been able to do it without the hours of preparation and the help of the Holy Spirit.

I have never relied so much on the Holy Spirit in the pulpit since that day, but I know that even when I have every word written on a piece of paper that the sermon did not come only from myself, but that through the hours of prayer, study and God's grace. And those who hear God's word when I speak do so because the Holy Spirit is helping them to hear. We can't do it alone; we can't rest on our own gifts and power to do God's work in the world.

We usually focus on the work Jesus did in healing and casting out demons, but the disciples did amazing things, too. In Mark 6, Jesus sent the Twelve out into the countryside to take the message of the Kingdom of God. Their work made an impact and many followed them when they returned to Jesus. There was so many that Jesus had to find a way to feed them all. I've always thought that they were simply coming because Jesus was there, but Mark tells us in 6:33 that many who saw them recognized "them." It wasn't just about Jesus any longer, it was also about them.

In today's story, however, they get a little kick in the butt because they can't do what they had done. They couldn't heal the child and they did not understand. Where was their power? Why couldn't they do this one small thing after they had done so many other amazing things? Jesus answered, "This kind can come out by nothing, save by prayer." The disciples who had been so recently successful had forgotten that their power did not come from themselves, but from the One who has all the power. They approached the problem without first seeking God in prayer. We all do sometimes, don't we?

We were in California and the rumors were that changes were being made in the Air Force that would require us to move to another base. We were worried because there were no definite answers to our questions about timing or placement, and we had a house to sell. The ambiguity of our situation made it difficult to deal with it all. When do we put our house on the market? What if we end up in an awful place? How can we make this move work to our best interest? I was stressed. Then one day I gave up; I prayed and I turned it all over to God. That's when everything fell into place. Our orders came, our house sold, we moved to a good place. It was still hard work, scary and exhausting, but prayer lightened the load because I began to trust God.

You might say, "But that preacher trusted God and He let her down," but did she? Did she seek His Word through prayer and the scriptures? Did she trust that He speaks to His people through the process of preparation in prayer and study, or did she think God would bless her in a miraculous way without bothering to do the hard part? The disciples knew what it was like to heal and cast out demons, so they didn't go to Him for the power to do His work. It is easy to lay hands and say "Be healed," especially when the crowds are following you because you've done it for others. It is much harder to stop and pray, to listen, and to trust that God will accomplish His work through you. We can't stand on our own, but much, much too often we try.

It is no wonder that James warns, "Be not many of you teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment." It is so easy for us to get caught up in the glory that surrounds us when God makes miraculous things happen. It is so easy for us to forget that it is God who has accomplished these works and in through us. Teachers make an incredible impact on those who listen to their teaching, and it can be frightening to think that we might say something that has a negative impact. We are imperfect no matter how knowledgeable and capable we are as teachers. We can be wrong. This statement makes us think twice about putting ourselves in the position to be judged by our failure to rightly preach and teach God's Word to the people.

Yet, this fear did not stop the disciples. They went out into the world sharing the Kingdom of God in word and deed, impacting those lives that crossed their path. After Jesus ascended to heaven they went out further into the world, into places where they never thought they would go, speaking to people they never thought they would meet. They didn't always get it right. Peter and Paul argued over specific doctrines. Later generations spent ages discussing, deciding, writing and teaching about the Kingdom Jesus made incarnate in this world. They didn't always get it right. The church today continues to discuss, decide, write and teach about God's Kingdom, and we continue to make mistakes.

James warned against becoming teachers because those who do so are judged more harshly. Teaching affects lives; teachers can cause people to change both for the good and for bad. We all fail, and our failures can affect the lives of others. This is no reason to fear the responsibilities we have been given with our gifts. We are cautioned to beware how we use our gifts and talents, always remembering the effect we can have on another, but also encouraged to step out in faith, to speak God's Word into the world. The key is to remember that it isn't about us; it is about Jesus. We are to enter into any opportunity to teach or preach, to heal or cast out demons with prayer, setting God in front of us to do His work within and through us. He is with us. He will help us through when we trust in Him.

The psalmist writes, "I love Jehovah, because he heareth my voice and my supplications." This seems upside down, because we know that we should love God without condition, but the psalmist puts it into perspective. He writes, "Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live." God is first in this equation. He loves so we love. He listens, so we pray. He heals, casts out demons, and speaks His Word, so we take His power and grace into the world. In His mercy and grace, we receive the healing we need, whether it is in body or soul, and we respond with love. We cry out to God because we trust Him. We trust Him because He is faithful to His promises. He hears our voice. He is near. That's how Isaiah lived. It is how we are to live, even if we are called and gifted to do the hard thing.

Isaiah knew what God wanted him to do, and he recognized it as a gift. We can see in his story that prophet is not a good position to covet. After all, he faced difficult times. He was humiliated, beaten, rejected. Yet, he knew that God sent him to speak His word to the people, and he didn't let the persecution stop him or lead him to respond in ways that did not glorify God. He trusted in God, and he did what God sent him to do, no matter how the world responded to him.

Prophecy (preaching) and teaching are closely related and are often mentioned together in the scriptures. Some people are gifted at proclaiming the message of God's Kingdom, while others are gifted at explaining it. It is vital that churches find those who are gifted in teaching, so that the congregation will learn how to apply the lessons learned from those who prophesy. We cannot be afraid to do the work we are sent to do. Isaiah was a prophet. He faced incredible trouble, life threatening difficulties far worse than any modern preacher or teacher. But Isaiah trusted God. Isaiah accepted whatever persecution he faced. He accepted the strikes to his cheek and the pulls of his beard. He accepted those offenses because he knew God was by his side. God has heard his voice and answered his prayers. God made an incredible impact through Isaiah in the world.

He can and does make an impact through us, too. We simply have to remember to seek Him in prayer before we try to do His work. After all, it isn't our power or knowledge or abilities that makes anything happen. It is God's power, His word and the Holy Spirit that does. We will be judged when we speak, sometimes by the very people to whom we are speaking. We will certainly disappoint those who have expectations beyond our ability, but we might even face persecution, rejection and even death. Whatever we do in word or deed in and for God's Kingdom, let us always begin with prayer, seeking God's purpose, word and power. It takes so much more than what we see on the surface to accomplish God's work; the world might follow us because they see tip of the iceberg, but we know that without the unseen majority of the iceberg we would be nothing.


September 10, 2015

"He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." Matthew 11:15, ASV

A video is circulating on the Internet of a meteorologist giving the weather report in Great Britain. There was an extreme difference in temperatures from the coast of northeastern England to the northwest area of Wales. The town he chose to highlight has a most unusual name: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. The video is circulating because he was able to perfectly pronounce this place name without pause. It is, perhaps, a little less impressive when you consider that the meteorologist is Welsh, but it is still an amazing thing. I have difficulty even following when he speaks the word because some of the syllables don't even look like they sound.

There is a commercial for a local auto dealership that has left me confused for a long time. I even asked Bruce the other day if he understood what they were saying at the end of the commercial. It sounds like gibberish to our ears. I decided to see if I could find the answer to my question and so I typed it into my search engine. After all, everything is somewhere on the Internet! I discovered that they are saying, "Aqui para ti," which means "Here for you" in Spanish.

Have you ever watched those shows where paranormal investigators hunt for ghosts? I do, with a bit of curiosity and skepticism. I like those who use scientific methods for their investigations, and while so much of it is theoretical, I think there is some credence to the work. I do get a little frustrated by some of the methods and equipment that seem to be contrived rather than genuine. I question some of the conclusions they make. I often wonder if they are falling for matrixing, which is a common phenomena in which the human brain perceives a stimuli, such as an image or a sound, as something it's not. It is the seeing or hearing of what we want to see or hear. Ghost hunters naturally tend to see paranormal in every experience, and while the good ones will debunk their assumption, they will find it easier to believe what they think is happening.

This happens especially when it comes to the electronic voice phenomenon. They will often catch voices on digital recorders that are not heard by their ears. They discover these voices as they go through their tapes and videos. Once found, they must determine what words are being said. This is where I begin to doubt because I rarely ever hear what they think they hear. Of course, I do not have the opportunity to hear it from the raw source, but I don't know why it would be so different on my television. It seems like they convince their clients of their interpretation just by speaking it. "Oh, yes, I hear it now."

I doubt I would have ever guessed the meteorologist was saying a place name if I heard him speaking without the backdrop. As a matter of fact, it sounds more like gibberish, just like that car dealer commercial. I can usually hear some words in the EVPs, but I rarely hear what the investigators hear, although once they give their interpretations I can sometimes understand why they think that way.

Today's verse is repeated often throughout the scriptures. Jesus wanted to make it clear that it is important to hear His Word. Faith comes from hearing. Wisdom comes from hearing. The problem is that we don't always hear God's Word as He has spoken it. We interpret what we hear to fit our own circumstances. We hear what we want to hear. We allow the world to twist God's Word so that it no longer means what He intends it to mean. We often get confused by the language that others use and it makes it more difficult for us to believe.

God has promised that those who hear will have faith, so let's listen carefully as He speaks to us in so many different ways. Sometimes it will be hard to hear what He is saying, sometimes we simply don't want to hear the message. But God is faithful and He will keep His promise. He will help us to hear when we trust in Him.


September 11, 2015

"So speak ye, and so do, as men that are to be judged by a law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to him that hath showed no mercy: mercy glorieth against judgment." James 2:12-13, ASV

My second grade teacher was mean. I think most of my friends would agree with me, but I have a story from that year that makes it particularly true. I got sick shortly before Christmas vacation, and as it turned out, I had the measles. I got sick to my stomach suddenly one day and asked our teacher if I could use the classroom bathroom. The classrooms with younger children had a small water closet for emergencies, but we rarely used it. The teacher told me that I had to go to the main restrooms in the hallway, but I couldn't make it. I vomited halfway there which was horribly embarrassing for me and it caused extra work for the janitor. I am not even sure why she did such a thing, except perhaps she thought I'd make a mess that she would have to clean up and she preferred to make it someone else's problem.

I have plenty of other teachers that made a positive impact on my life. Those teachers were not only found in my schools, but were mentors at church, in organizations and sports with which I was involved. My family supported me and encouraged me to be all that I could be. A baton teacher made me brave and a rifle coach used that bravery to make me a choreographer. An art teacher helped me accept failure and another gave me the room to be creative in my own way. A special education teacher invited me to help his students as tutor and mentor. A deaconess at my church called me into ministry when I was a teenager and continues to encourage me today. Each of these people had an impact on my life; I am who I am because they found ways to teach me, encourage me and help me become all that God has created and redeemed me to be.

I am so thankful for those who had a positive impact on my life, but I am also thankful for that mean second grade teacher. Though the lesson was hurtful and embarrassing, it makes me think twice when I am confronted by an opportunity when I should be merciful. I've heard stories of teachers who spent more time fighting the difficult child rather than encouraging him or her. I've heard stories about parents who don't know how to do deal with challenging problems and they react out of fear or frustration rather than grace. I've heard stories of people who reject or ignore those they find tedious instead of finding a way to build a relationship that could make a difference to the world.

We are always learning from those we encounter, both good and bad. Most of us can easily name a handful of teachers or elders who have had a positive impact, but we'd rather ignore the memories of those who touched us negatively. Yet, we should not just remember the good things; we should learn from the bad ones. What did the good teachers do that was right and how can we emulate it? What did the bad ones do that was wrong and how can we act differently?

Sadly, it is very easy for us to imitate the negative: this is especially true of those children that grow up in abusive homes. As they say, "If you hear something enough times, you begin to believe it. It is easier to believe the bad stuff." The one who is beaten begins to beat others because it is easy to believe that is the way of the world. As Christians, however, we are called to live differently, to seek mercy, to treat others with grace even when we are treated with unkindness. Let us look to our role models, both bad and good through the eyes of Jesus Christ so that we can see both the characteristics we should embrace and those that we should overcome. In doing so we will grow in grace to serve Him in a way that will always have a positive impact on those we encounter in the world.


September 14, 2015

"And he was teaching daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people sought to destroy him: and they could not find what they might do; for the people all hung upon him, listening." Luke 19:47-48, ASV

Why were they listening? Were they listening because they wanted to hear what He had to say? Were they drawn to Him because He was doing amazing things among the people, like healing and casting out demons? Were they listening because they were interested in His perspective? Were they listening because they wanted to learn and grow? Were they listening because they respected Jesus?

Luke tells us that they were listening because they wanted to destroy Him. They did not want to hear what He had to say. As a matter of fact, they approached Him or eavesdropped from shady corners because they disagreed with Him even before they heard what He had to say. They were not drawn to Him by the shows of power or the proofs of His claims. They weren't interested in His perspective because they were too set in their ways. It wasn't a matter of not wanting to change; they knew that what Jesus was saying would require humility and sacrifice. They had it too good to let go and so they listened to find a way to stop Jesus.

Steven Covey once said, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." The chief priests, scribes and principal men in Jerusalem were listening to Jesus so that they could find some way to reply. They had a preconceived notion in their head based on their own expectations and understanding of God that they refused to even listen, really listen, to what Jesus had to say. They wanted to catch Him in words that could be used against Him rather than listen for the Word that is life-giving and transformational.

Now, I'm not sure that most of what we say is life-giving and transformation, but I wonder how many times we listen with the intent to reply rather than to understand. We are so busy thinking of an answer while someone else is talking that we don't even hear what they say. We might not mind the idea of change, but we are so entrenched in our own point of view that we can't see that another might be better. We go into conversations with a preconceived notion and never really hear what the other has to say.

We aren't Jesus; we are more like those chief priests, scribes and principal men. Jesus, who had the truth on His tongue and performed the signs and wonders to prove His authority, listened. He heard the woman at the well. He heard the ruler whose daughter was dying. He heard the blind me and lepers who needed His touch. He heard the pain and fear, hope and faith of the men and women who came to Him for healing and peace. He even heard the chief priests, scribes and principal men when they confronted Him.

We aren't Jesus, but the Holy Spirit dwells in us and draws people who need God's grace. We can't give them what they truly need if we are unwilling to listen. We can't touch their hearts or healing their hurts if we are too quick with an answer or so busy thinking of our response that we don't really hear what they have to say. It is even worse when we go into that conversation with a preconceived idea of what the person needs, especially if we think they need to turn toward us. Our task in this world is to share Jesus; the best way to do that is to understand those who need Him the most so that we can serve them in a way that will truly be life-changing and transformational.

It isn't about us or our ideas, but about letting God do His work in and through us. We must stop listening with the intent to reply; we must stop trying to find a way to destroy the one whom God has sent to us for help. The best place to start is to listen with the intent to understand, both to those who speak and to the God who can make all things new and right and holy.


September 15, 2015

"Then on that day did David first ordain to give thanks unto Jehovah, by the hand of Asaph and his brethren. O give thanks unto Jehovah, call upon his name; Make known his doings among the peoples. Sing unto him, sing praises unto him; Talk ye of all his marvellous works. Glory ye in his holy name; Let the heart of them rejoice that seek Jehovah. Seek ye Jehovah and his strength; Seek his face evermore. Remember his marvellous works that he hath done, His wonders, and the judgments of his mouth, O ye seed of Israel his servant, Ye children of Jacob, his chosen ones. He is Jehovah our God; His judgments are in all the earth. Remember his covenant for ever, The word which he commanded to a thousand generations, The covenant which he made with Abraham, And his oath unto Isaac, And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a statute, To Israel for an everlasting covenant, Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, The lot of your inheritance; When ye were but a few men in number, Yea, very few, and sojourners in it; And they went about from nation to nation, And from one kingdom to another people. He suffered no man to do them wrong; Yea, he reproved kings for their sakes, Saying, Touch not mine anointed ones, And do my prophets no harm. Sing unto Jehovah, all the earth; Show forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, His marvellous works among all the peoples. For great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised: He also is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols: But Jehovah made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him: Strength and gladness are in his place. Ascribe unto Jehovah, ye kindreds of the peoples, Ascribe unto Jehovah glory and strength; Ascribe unto Jehovah the glory due unto his name: Bring an offering, and come before him: Worship Jehovah in holy array. Tremble before him, all the earth: The world also is established that it cannot be moved. Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; And let them say among the nations, Jehovah reigneth. Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; Let the field exult, and all that is therein; Then shall the trees of the wood sing for joy before Jehovah; For he cometh to judge the earth. O give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever. And say ye, Save us, O God of our salvation, And gather us together and deliver us from the nations, To give thanks unto thy holy name, And to triumph in thy praise. Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Israel, From everlasting even to everlasting. And all the people said, Amen, and praised Jehovah." 1 Chronicles 16:7-36, ASV

"And all the people said, Amen, and praised Jehovah."

We use that word a lot in our community of faith, don't we? We end all our prayers with "Amen" whether it is said, or delightfully sung in chorus. We say "Amen" when the preacher says something that is agreeable. We type "Amen" on those Facebook posts about praising God and living according to His Word. "Amen" means that we find what has been said trustworthy and true. It can literally be translated "So be it."

We use that word at the end of the statements to confirm our agreement. We can certainly agree with the psalm in today's passage. This particular song of praise was sung by David as he restored the Ark of the Covenant to the Tent that David had pitched and appointed some Levites to minister before the Ark. This was a song of commitment, of ordination, for those ministers. It speaks of the faithfulness of God, of His good works and His lovingkindness that will last forever. These are words to which we can all say or sing a hearty "Amen."

We use the word "Amen" with such regularity that I think we lose some of the importance of it. After all, do we really think about what we are doing when we type "Amen" on all those Facebook posts? Are our "Amens" thoughtful or are they conditioned responses? Do we really mean "So be it" when we pray for God's will to be done and for God to have mercy on our enemies? Do we type "Amen" because we agree that other people are sinners, but we aren't so convinced that we are, too? Have we truly listened to what has been said and are we really committed to living the life that those words demand of us? We agree with our tongues, but do our hearts really mean it?

It is interesting that the word that we have translated "Amen" have been the same since the beginning of God's people. The Hebrew, Greek and English are very similar, translated letter for letter. The root of the word in Hebrew means "to build up or support," "to foster" as a parent or nurse, "to render firm or faithful," "to trust or believe," "to be permanent or quiet," "to be true or certain." In Greek, the word means "firm," or "trustworthy." It is often translated "truly" or "verily."

Jesus used the word often in His ministry. Matthew attributed the word to Jesus twenty-eight times and John did so in its doubled form twenty-six times. He says, "Truly I say to you..." (John writes, "Truly, truly I say to you...") when He is speaking something that is particularly important for us to hear and believe; "Listen with ears that hear and believe what I'm saying because it is vital to your life of faith," He says. We answer His words with an "Amen," but Jesus calls us to trust His words by beginning these statements of faith with the word.

"Trust me" Jesus says. May we always respond as those in David's day: "And all the people said, Amen, and praised Jehovah."


September 16, 2015

"Scriptures for Sunday, September 20, 2015, Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:10; Mark 9:30-37

""Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall exalt you." James 4:10, ASV

I like historical novels, particularly those set in England. I've been reading a series set in the late middle ages, which was a time when England was constantly at war with her neighbors and those neighbors, France and Scotland mainly, often allied together to battle the common enemy. Their armies were supplemented by mercenaries from many nations. War is a difficult thing at any time, but the constant battles between these nations were violent, bloody and motivated by greed.

The armies were made up of men who were determined to get ahead by any means possible. They looted the people they defeated; they sought gold and stole the purses and armor off the dead and dying in the field. They took the lords and nobles as captives to ransom them for great wealth. They wanted to stand out, to gain recognition for their strength and bravery. They wanted to be remembered; they wanted to catch the eye of the king, to be raised to new rank in their world. They went to war to get rich and they did whatever was necessary to do so.

It is no wonder that people have a negative opinion of the military. Things are different today, at least in the United States, but even here there are those who serve for the wrong reasons. It is hard for many to believe, but there are good reasons to serve in this way. Our military does far more than just shoot guns and kill people. They do more than drop bombs. Our military sends relief supplies to those who are in need. They help people escape oppression. They build roads and other infrastructure, especially in those places where they have caused the damage. See, we don't raid and destroy then walk away; we do what is necessary and then we make things better.

I know: not every military action is good and we have made some horrible mistakes, but overall we've done more good than we have done harm. In general, our motives have been to help rather than hurt. We don't usually fight for gold or fame or even power; the good fights we have fought have been for the sake of others. Many will argue that even good intentions have selfish motives, but I guess that's why we need to face these difficult times with wisdom and humility.

Whether we like it or not, a strong military is necessary to maintain peace and ensure justice in our world. Martin Luther and other reformers understood that there are two kingdoms: the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God. They believed that God ruled both kingdoms, but He did so in the kingdom of the world through temporal authority. The left hand of God is found in the hands of kings and presidents, church leaders, bosses, parents and others who hold positions of authority. These temporal authorities have the power to rule through law, including the use of military power as necessary. The right hand of God rules the spiritual, and this authority is not given to man, but to the Holy Spirit whose power is the Gospel. A Christian can (and should) serve in the kingdom of the world, but should never allow the kingdom of the world to usurp the authority of the kingdom of God. Notice that church leaders are appointed to rule in the kingdom of the world,

Martin Luther writes, "God has ordained the two governments: the spiritual, which by the Holy Spirit under Christ makes Christians and pious people; and the secular, which restrains the unchristian and wicked so that they are obliged to keep the peace outwardly... The laws of worldly government extend no farther than to life and property and what is external upon earth. For over the soul God can and will let no one rule but himself. Therefore, where temporal power presumes to prescribe laws for the soul, it encroaches upon God's government and only misleads and destroys souls. We desire to make this so clear that every one shall grasp it, and that the princes and bishops may see what fools they are when they seek to coerce the people with their laws and commandments into believing one thing or another."

Luther also said, "We are to be subject to governmental power and do what it bids, as long as it does not bind our conscience but legislates only concerning outward matters... But if it invades the spiritual domain and constrains the conscience, over which God only must preside and rule, we should not obey it at all but rather lose our necks. Temporal authority and government extend no further than to matters which are external and corporeal."

There is always a risk to living our Christian life in this world; persecution will eventually come to those who hold up God's truths against the laws of the land. The thing we must always remember is that we are both saints and sinners in this world, saved by the grace of God but still flesh and blood that fails, and so our righteous indignation must be tempered by humility. What is our motive for standing against the temporal authorities appointed by God? Are we doing so out of faithfulness to God, His Word and the Gospel or are we motivated by some selfish intention?

In the end we can trust that God will make His justice prevail.

Jeremiah the prophet lamented over the suffering he faced. It is difficult enough to be persecuted by strangers, but Jeremiah's suffering came at the hands of his own family. They wanted to destroy him because He was trying to tell the people about their unfaithfulness. He had to tell them that they broke the covenant and that they are cursed by their guilt. Despite God's saving grace leading them out of Egypt, they turned from Him and their unfaithfulness would send them into exile. God told Jeremiah that he should not even pray for the people or to offer a plea for them. They had gone too far to be saved from the consequences of their rebellion.

If I were Jeremiah, I would have preferred being ignorant; I would not even want to have been called to be a prophet. Jeremiah's words fell on unwilling ears. He was opposed on every side; even his family was against him. His words brought the wrath of the left hand kingdom on his head, but their persecution would reach beyond Jeremiah. His family could be destroy, so his family schemed to destroy him, to protect themselves. A plot against Jeremiah would have had a positive impact on those who perpetrated it: they would have found favor with those in authority. They may have been elevated by their courageous acts against the prophet. Who wants to know that their family wants to destroy them or that they care more about getting ahead than caring for a loved one? But the Lord made this conspiracy known to Jeremiah and he had to live with the reality that not only the world, but even his family, hated him.

It might be easier to stay ignorant and we need not fear because we know that God is faithful to His promises. We know that persecution in the kingdom of the world will be temporary and that we will dwell eternally in the kingdom of God. That's why it is important that we not allow the world to overrule God, otherwise we will suffer like those in Jeremiah's day, exiled from God's kingdom for a time. God was faithful to His people; He restored them eventually. God is the God of second chances. However, if we reject God by choosing the world, we will suffer the consequences which can be eternal.

Besides, if we stay ignorant than we cannot help those who need us to stand firmly against the world. Where would we be today if men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer did not risk his own life for the sake of those who were being murdered under Hitler's reign? So many in Germany remained ignorant to the truth of what was happening until it was too late. Their ignorance led to the death of millions, not just Jews, but the sick, disabled, elderly, young, foreigners and those who spoke the truth. Average Germans even suffered under the rule of Hitler from lack of food, unjust laws and were beaten by those who were meant to protect them.

We should count it as a blessing when God reveals to us something we do not wish to know. God is faithful and He will make all things right. He calls us to be partners with Him in both kingdoms. We fight for peace and justice as we share the Gospel. We might not know how God is using us in this world or whether we are accomplishing His will, but we can trust that He will make all things right in His time and way.

The key is humility. The key is remembering that God is ruler of both worlds, and the work we have been called to do is His work whether it is flesh or spirit. It is never about what we can get out of it. We don't fight for God's kingdom or work for the kingdom of the world to gain gold or power or fame. We are called by God to do it to His glory and for the sake of others. When we put God and our neighbors ahead of ourselves, we take the risks of death and persecution without fear.

David trusts that God is his helper. In the psalm David begins with a cry for help, then a confession of trust in God, and finishes with a vow to offer thanksgiving and praise. David is confident that God will save him from his enemies. He comforts himself in the knowledge that God is faithful to His promises. That's what it means to be wise, not ignorant of the truth but trusting in God in the midst of it. When we face persecution, we too can cry out to God with our worries and fears. Like David, we can do so with the assurance that our helper God hears us and will make all things right.

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

The disciples did not yet understand, but then have any of us really come to fully understand what God intends for us? We still want to live in that world where we "Eat, drink and be merry" or chase after the prize in war and in peace. Who wants to be persecuted when going along with the crowd can be so much fun? Who wants to be a servant when there’s a chance for a position of power and authority? Perhaps we don't really want to be ignorant, but we'd rather follow our own wisdom. James writes, "Whence come wars and whence come fightings among you?" We become involved with conflicts and disputes because we follow our cravings rather than trust in our God. We ask for the wrong things. We seek pleasure and in doing so we turn from God. We are motivated by our flesh rather than our spirit.

So, how do live humbly in this world? James writes, "Be subject therefore unto God; but resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye doubleminded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness." This passage includes ten commands calling us to action in rooting out the sin of pride in our lives. Pride is what causes us to chase after gold, power and fame. Humility, the opposite of pride, leads us in a life of service to others.

First, we submit to God. Submitting to God means trusting in Him. It means seeking His wisdom, being meek. We often misunderstand the word "meekness" to mean weak, but the reality is that meekness is the humble understanding that you are not the greatest. Greatness does not come to those who force or manipulate others. True greatness comes to those who do what they are called to do in a way that glorifies God; He will glorify them for their faith. Humility is trusting that God will accomplish His work through us as we go about life doing what we can do, even if it means risking everything.

Next, we must resist the devil. You see, the devil is clever. Too many people, Christians included, have fallen for the lie that the devil doesn't exist. The world laughs at the image of a red creature with horns and a tail, saying it is just ridiculous to think anything like it exists. The truth is that Satan himself has created that image to fool those who want to remain ignorant of the spiritual battle that is raging all around us. Then, when you don't believe he exists, the devil convinces you, slowly but surely, that all that God talk is ridiculous. And so you believe his word over that of God. We must resist!

Third, James writes, "Come near to God." This means that we should daily take time to be in His presence. We can resist the devil are more easily if God's Word is on our lips and in our hearts. Daily prayer, study of scriptures, worship and service in His name will give us the strength and the power to resist.

Fourth we are to wash our hands. This is not a statement about good hygiene, but rather points back to the practice of the Old Testament priests. They were required to wash their hands before they could approach God in the tabernacle. The next command "purify your hearts" continues this thought. Washing our hands symbolizes spiritual cleansing. Washing our hands is then an outward act showing the inward cleansing. We wash our hands and our hearts of sin by confessing that which we have done and failed to do in thought, word and deed. By admitting our sinfulness, we open ourselves to God's grace and forgiveness.

The next three commands come together also; we are to grieve, mourn and wail. They may sound like they are repetition, but as is true of so much of the ancient languages, there is always subtle shades of meaning that are not quite visible in English. In Greek, the word that is translated "grieve" in the NIV is better translated in the above quote from ASV. It means "be afflicted" or "endure hardship." James is calling us to be willing to accept the consequences of our sin. We are to mourn our sinfulness, to lament our failure to live up to the expectations of our God. And finally, we are to wail. There is more to this than simply crying; we are to wail. While cleansing our hearts is an inner confession, wailing over our sin is a public, outer confession. These are all acts of repentance, a recognition that we are not the greatest in anything. As a matter of fact,

We, like those in the days of the early church, treat our sin casually. Just as we reject the idea of the devil, we reject our wrongdoing is sin. We dismiss as sin those things which don't hurt others. We justify our actions even when they don't line up with the Word of God, rewriting the scriptures to fit our desires. Just as we laugh at the idea of the devil, we laugh at those who call us to repentance and we embrace our sin with joyful glee. We so what the world says we can do even when it leads us away from our God, and we do so with joy because the world's idea of life is so much more satisfying than the life that risks death and persecution. James calls us to change our laughter into mourning and our joy into gloom.

Finally, James says, "Humble yourselves." This returns us to James' quote of Proverbs 3:34 in verse six, "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble." The other nine commands bring us to the point of receiving God's grace. When we are humbled, we can embrace the kingdom of God which begins with forgiveness and ends in the fulfillment of God's promise of eternal life. None of the other commands have any value unless they lead us to fully and completely resting in God's grace. That's true humility.

We are no different than the disciples, the people in Jeremiah's day or those soldiers in the middle ages. We still want to win. We still want to be the one at the top. We still want to be the most important one in the kingdom. But Jesus says, "Whosoever shall receive one of such little children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever receiveth me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me." God sometimes shows us what we don't want to know, but He promises to bring us through it. Jesus showed us the child because a child trusts without condition. Can we? Or would we rather ignore the truth?

We fail to receive what we truly want because we chase after the wrong things. James writes, “Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and covet, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war; ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may spend it in your pleasures.” The humble Christian is a servant does not seek gold, power or fame, but who walks and works in faith that God will accomplish His good work in our lives.


September 17, 2015

"And they were bringing unto him also their babes, that he should touch them: but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them unto him, saying, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for to such belongeth the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein." Luke 18:15-17, ASV

A loving touch is the key to healthy brain development. I heard a story on the news this morning that talked about a study that shows the brain patterns of children while they are being lovingly touched by a parent or caregiver. The study showed that touching different parts of the body stimulated different parts of the brain. That stimulation led to brain growth and ultimately richer language, reasoning, and planning skills. Touching your baby can actually make them smarter because the early stimulation develops more neural connections that will be used in later life to think and study and mature.

We know that touch is important for everyone. Through touch we make connections that are personal, tangible, real. A handshake creates a relationship on which trust can be built. A hug shows a willingness to give oneself to another. Touch, in general, makes us feel safe and comfortable. With children, however, touch is physiologically necessary. A child who is not touched will not thrive; the lack of touch can affect the levels of growth hormones and stunt a child's growth. Immune systems of untouched children are weaker and are more likely to succumb to later diseases like heart disease. A lack of touch can actually lead to illness and death.

Neurologically children have more neurons and synapses than adults; they are lost over time as the brain develops and those neurons and synapses connect to one another. To more we develop the brain in younger years, the more connects there are, the greater the brain power as an adult.

Jesus touched a lot of people. He occasionally spoke words alone that led to healing, but in many of the stories Jesus touched the person who was ill. He touched the eyes of the blind, the ears and tongue of the deaf and dumb. He touched the hands of the dead to give them new life. In these stories, the act of touching was in rebellion against the rules of His faith. He touched the leper and the dead, acts which made Him unclean. In the spiritual sense we know that His touch did more than just heal their bodies. The touch healed their spirits, made them part of their community, gave them wholeness. He could have healed them all with just a word, but He touched them to give them more.

The parents were not bringing sick children to Jesus; the children were just children. They wanted their children to be blessed by this holy man, perhaps because they thought His touch would keep them well or make their lives holy. They may have wanted their children to be a part of the experience or to see history in the making.

We still do this today, don't we? We take our kids to see sports stars at their appearances or to wave at the presidential cavalcade as it passes through our towns. How many politicians have kissed babies to ensure an image of a caring leader? A local family happened to be outside the Vatican a few months ago when Pope Francis was passing through the crowds. A security guard gestured for little one-year-old Azucena and her father handed her over. The pope took the child in his hands and kissed her adorable little face. The family were thrilled and felt as though the pope had touched them, too. Whether or not the family thought the kiss held some sort of blessing, who among us wouldn't be thrilled to have such a personal encounter with someone like him?

The key to this story is that Jesus did not allow the disciples to chase those children away. The artistic representations of this moment have the children climbing all over Jesus, as children might climb on a favorite uncle or friend. He most certainly blessed them, but it is about more than that. This story reminds us how important it is to bring our children to the Lord so that they, too, might listen and believe. Some Christians are concerned about forcing children to believe as they do or are anxious to get their kids actively involved in things that take them away from church. However, that early spiritual touch is as important as the physical touch.

Just as the brain needs physical touch to grown, so too does faith need to be developed. We need to take our children to Jesus, to let Him touch them, teach them and fan the spark that they receive at baptism. We need to share our faith with them, read the scriptures, and develop relationships with other Christians. It is up to us to help our children be the best they can be, both as human beings and Christians. Let the little children be drawn into Jesus' arms so that they will become the disciples God is calling them to be.


September 18, 2015

"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, who, if his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone; or if he shall ask for a fish, will give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets. Enter ye in by the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many are they that enter in thereby. For narrow is the gate, and straitened the way, that leadeth unto life, and few are they that find it." Matthew 7:7-14

I was in the grocery store the other day. I wanted to buy a can of peppers like those you might put on a pizza. There is a brand that carries a small can, exactly what I wanted that was perfect for the purpose. I usually find it with the pizza making ingredients, but that store did not carry that brand. Unfortunately, none of brands had that item on the shelf. So, I went looking for other places it might be. I looked in the International foods. I looked in the pickles and olives. I finally found a shelf of different brands of peppers, and though there was nothing exactly like I wanted, I bought a viable substitute. I was looking in the wrong place for what I wanted, not just the wrong department, but the entirely wrong store.

Last night's reading from my Bonhoeffer devotional struck me. In "A Testament to Freedom" Bonhoeffer wrote, "If I am one who says where God shall be, so I will always find a God there who corresponds in some way to me, is pleasing to me, who belongs to my nature. It if is, however, God who speaks where God chooses to be, then that will probably be a place which does not at all correspond to my nature, which is not at all pleasing to me. But this place is the cross of Christ. And the one who will find him there must be with him under this cross, just as the Sermon on the Mount demands. This doesn't suit our nature at all but is completely counter to it. This, however, is the message of the Bible, not only in the New but also in the Old Testament. In any event, Jesus and Paul intended this: with the cross of Jesus is the Scripture, that is, the Old Testament, fulfilled. The whole Bible will, therefore, be the Word in which God will allow the divine self to be discovered by us. This is no place which is pleasing or 'a priori' sensible to us, but a place strange to us in every way and which is entirely contrary to us. But this is the very place God has chosen to encounter."

How often do we go chasing after God in a way and a place where we want to find Him? We want our faith to be comfortable and satisfying, but we don't realize that we are holding a faith that is very limited. Jesus says that gate is narrow, and we usually think of this in terms of us using a great big door or following a large highway rather than the tiny path. However, do we ever miss the truth of God because we are so busy going in and out the wrong door? We choose the door of our making rather than seeking God where He is.

I once had a vision of myself in a beautiful meadow beside a cool, rambling stream. I was sitting under a shady tree and my Lord Jesus was sitting next to me. We were talking about the things that mattered, although I could not give you a transcript of the conversation today. It is a moment that seemed real at the time and it has stayed with me all these years. It is a moment I hope to experience again in a truly real way after that day when I am with Him for eternity. It was beautiful, comfortable, and peaceful. It is my hope for what heaven will be like.

I am tempted to try to recreate the moment by finding the perfect meadow beside a cool, rambling stream with tree under which I can sit and pray. I will surely find God there because He is with us wherever we go and He hears us whenever we pray. But is my limited image of God's presence as being beautiful, comfortable and peaceful really the God in whom I believe? Isn't He so much more? Isn't He also the God who we see in the Old Testament, who we see in Jesus as He confronts those who themselves have a very limited understanding of their God? Is He also the God who took upon Himself the cross to die for our sake? We might want to meet Him in the meadow under that tree, but we are called to meet Him in the uncomfortable places because that is where He can have the greatest impact in our lives. It is at the foot of the cross and in the strange places where we truly transformed into the people God has created, redeemed and called us to be. So let's not knock at just the doors we want opened, but seek God in the places we'd rather not go, for there we will see Him fully and completely in a way that will truly make a difference for us and the world.


September 21, 2015

"I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go unto the house of Jehovah. Our feet are standing Within thy gates, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that art builded As a city that is compact together; Whither the tribes go up, even the tribes of Jehovah, For an ordinance for Israel, To give thanks unto the name of Jehovah. For there are set thrones for judgment, The thrones of the house of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: They shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, And prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee. For the sake of the house of Jehovah our God I will seek thy good." Psalm 122, ASV

I watched a video this morning of six boys welcoming their newborn sister to the family. They boys, who are aged 13, 10, 7, 5, 4 and 2, all had something wonderful to say about the new little girl in their life. The oldest couldn't believe how small she was, "I didn't even think babies could be so small." The two year old did not have words for baby Ruby, but hugged and kissed her sweetly. They all touched her delicately, amazed at this wonder that had become their sister. The four year old said that he loved her, but that she was cuter than he thought she would be. The five year old loved her with kisses, but said, "I'm worried about the pink. I hope she doesn't want to paint everything pink. I hate pink." The seven year old promised to be her protector. "She is as precious as a Ruby." If anyone hurt her, he said, he would join the police, hunt them down and put them in jail for a thousand years. The ten year old is excited but scared because it is a girl. One of the brothers talked about the day Ruby would bring home a boy. "Whoever it is will have to get through the six of us."

The video is adorable (although currently unavailable) and you can see how much each brother loves his little sister. They love her in different ways, with different worries and promises, and yet they each show her a love that is so obvious in their eyes and in their touch. She's going to be one well-loved little girl, not only by the parents who waited thirteen years for their girl, but also by those boys.

Now, we all know life will not be so idyllic forever. There will come a time when that little girl will driver her big brothers crazy. She will paint her walls pink. She'll bring home the wrong boy. She'll be underfoot and will draw much of the attention away from them. A girl after six boys will probably get her way. She will peep around the corners when the older boys bring home their own girlfriends. She'll break their toys or spill orange juice on their homework and then flutter her beautiful little eyelashes until they forgive her.

Ok, so perhaps she won't be such a troublemaker to her big brothers, but we know that we don't always get along with our family with such tender love and care. We love them, for sure, but sometimes they drive us crazy, whether they are brothers and sisters by blood or family in Christ. We will disagree about things. We'll get annoyed when something doesn't go our way or when we feel we've been cheated in some way. We'll get frustrated when they get in our way or do other things that drive us crazy.

When things go astray with those relationships, however, let us always remember that there's a common bond. There's a love that is deeper and better than any of our annoyances, frustrations or difficulties. We are family, by blood or by Christ's blood, and we should constantly pray for peace in those families. We should constantly try to keep those relationships strong, forgiving whenever necessary with grace and mercy. We do this not only for our own sake, or for the sake of our brothers and sisters, but for God's sake, for it is Him for whom we live and breathe and have our being. The familiar relationships of this world are buy a shadow of the most important relationship in our life: the relationship with our Father who is glorified by our love and from whom we will experience a peace that is beyond our understanding.


September 22, 2015

"Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me cast out the mote out of thine eye; and lo, the beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." Matthew 7:1-5, ASV

Someone somewhere is always making lists of the best of this or the best of that. They list favorites in music and movies and food. They list favorite places to hike or to swim or to see flowers in bloom. They list the best colleges, the cheapest vacation spots or the top selling cars. Some of the lists are negatives, like the worst place to live and the fattest people. Some of the lists are based on specific parameters and others are more subjective. The lists are made by surveying people or seeing the impact they have.

We have a local radio host that often talks about the lists, but he says that if there is a list it is usually wrong, especially those that are subjective. How can you possibly make a list of the hundred best movies when there are thousands of movies from which to choose? I'm not sure I could answer if I were among those who were surveyed because I have difficulty choosing even one favorite let alone ranking things. I have some movies that I love to watch, but I doubt they would be considered the best by others. Some of them aren't even very good movies, but they make me laugh or cry or think so I like them.

Of course, discussing the list of history's greatest pop songs is petty and mundane when considering the things we really it comes we should be discussing. Yet, these conversations can get pretty intense and heated. We can't believe that they would like this movie or that song above the ones we think are the best; if their favorites do not match our favorites then then must be wrong. What was interesting about the conversation on today's radio show is that the host realized that there was a whole genre of television shows that did not even make the list even though some of them were the best shows.

Now, the text today is about far more important questions than whether or now our neighbors like the same movies or music than us. It is about more than whether a list is right or wrong. And yet, the text has been used by our modern society to stop people from having any sort of opinion. We are offended when someone says we are wrong and we judge them for judging us.

This text is not a command but a warning. We are reminded that we will face the same measure of judgment as those who we judge. So, if we say that their list is wrong, then someone can just as easily say that our list is wrong. Silly example, perhaps, but let's take this the step further. We are not supposed to judge people's sinful behavior, but the text is often abbreviated to "judge not," forgetting that the point here is to be warned that we will face the same judgment. So, if we accuse someone of lying when we are guilty of lying, then we should and will be judged as we have judged. If we accuse someone of living an immoral life, but we are guilty of our own immorality, then we will be judged accordingly. The warning does not tell us that we should not call people out on their sin, but that we should be prepared to experience the consequences of our own sinfulness.

Most of all, we are reminded that we do not have the authority to judge anyone's eternal destiny. See, we are all sinners in need of a Savior. We need Jesus who has won our inheritance in the Kingdom of God by His own willingness to rip all our beams out of His own eyes. We are all called to take the Law out into the world so that everyone who dwells in darkness will see that they need Jesus. When we do so, however, we are also called to take the Gospel of forgiveness and mercy to them. "You are a sinner" is judgment; "You are forgiven" is grace. We will never really know grace unless we are shown our need for grace. And as we do so, may we always remember, especially when someone calls us out on the motes in our eyes, that they are really beams that can only be removed by God's grace.


September 23, 2015

Scriptures for Sunday, September 27, 2015, Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Psalm 104:27-35; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

"I will sing unto Jehovah as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have any being." Psalm 104:33, ASV

There's something about three days. Benjamin Franklin once said, "Guests, like fish, get old after three days." I'm not sure that's entirely true, especially if it is company that you love, but there's something about three days. Wednesday, the third day of the week, is in some ways the hardest day of the week: you have been at work three days, the job is getting to you and the weekend seems so far off. We love a three day weekend. Exercise experts recommend to those beginning an exercise program that they should rest on the third day after having a good workout the other two; without rest the body becomes more susceptible to severe muscle soreness, a suppressed immune system, improper sleep, a decrease in strength and performance, and injury. We know, of course, the most grief-filled three days happened about two thousand years ago as our Lord Jesus was in the tomb.

I was surprised when I read today's Old Testament lesson, because it seems like we just talked about the Israelites complaining about being hungry. We did; a few weeks ago we saw the story of the Israelites when they had just crossed the Red Sea. They began complaining on the third day. In response, God provided both manna and quail as well as water from the rock.

Today's story takes place just three days after the Israelites began their forty year wandering in the wilderness. They had just left Sinai after receiving the Tablets of the Law. They had just received the instructions of God for organizing the nation. They were probably still in the shadow of the mountain and they had already forgotten to trust in the God who saved them from the Egyptians. As a matter of fact, they were already recalling the good food they had in Egypt, the fish and fruit 'at no cost.' They had already forgotten the slavery and the abuse they experienced. The day they left Sinai was just one year, one month and one week after the day they left Goshen, and they looked at it as 'the good old days.'

Think about the amazing things God had done in that one year, one month and one week. He parted the Red Sea, killed the Egyptian army, provided water, manna and quail in the desert. At the foot of Sinai He proved His power and He gave the people His Law. He was with them as they wandered, in the cloud by day and fire by night, leading them toward the Promised Land. He had saved them and was taking them to the place He gave to their father Abraham, but all they could think about by the third day is how inconvenient it was. God was teaching them how to trust in Him, but quickly (in three days) fell back into their old ways, desire and arrogance. They thought they knew better than God and they complained.

Don't we all.

Moses had his own complaints. "God, why did you make me the leader of these troublesome people?" One of the things we have to remember is that the group that left Egypt was not just Hebrews. Many God-fearing Egyptians and other foreigners had joined them. They did not have the history with God; they did not know the forefathers who were given the promises. Yet, despite being outsiders, they, too, had benefitted from the hand of God. They may not have suffered as the Hebrews did in Egypt, but they left for a reason? Did they have compassion on those they saw suffering? Were they Egyptians whose consciences demanded they do what was right by those to whom they had done so much wrong? They saw something in the people who were being led to freedom and they followed, yet at the first moment of discomfort, they fanned the flames of discontent in the entire camp. It is easy to blame the rabble, but even the faithful were easily led astray.

The rabble was craving the life they used to lead, the food they used to eat, the comfort of their homes and the stability of being in one place. When they Israelites heard the grumbling, they began to weep. They began to remember a life in Egypt that was much different than the reality. They remembered a good life, with good food and comfortable homes. They saw their past through the eyes of those foreigners and they forgot the pain and suffering of their slavery. They trusted in the memory of the rabble and forgot that the God of their forefathers had delivered them out of slavery into the life He had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Moses didn't know what to do. He knew the reality of the slavery because he had risked his own life to lead the people out of Egypt. He knew the dangers of returning. He knew the blessings of following God. "Why did you stick me with this mess?" he wondered to God. Moses was frustrated. He was given the responsibility to care for this crowd, both Israelites and non-Israelites, and he found it difficult to deal with their grumbling. "If this is what I have to put up with, God, just kill me right here and now." He wanted the easy solution; he looked for the extreme answer to his problem.

Ah, the easy out. Don't we all want to take it? Isn't it easier to just let our neighbor do what they want to do, rather than show them the blessing of what God has to offer? Isn't it easier to follow them to a life that seems like it might just be a little better than pursuing after a God who seems to want us to suffer? The world, the outsiders, make that life seem so wonderful. They talk about freedom. They talk about pleasure. They talk about satisfaction, and we want to join because it looks so much better.

Have you ever asked God to just remove the problem, perhaps by asking to die? That's a pretty extreme response to the troubles we face, but it is the prayer Moses prayed when after three days the rabble and the Hebrews were already complaining. Instead of death, God decided to give Moses some help and told him to appoint and anoint other leaders. He probably felt very alone, one man against a million complainers with no idea how to meet their needs. God reminded him that he is not alone, and once the camp was involved in the day to day decisions, they settled down.

God sent quail later, but He took care of the more difficult problem first: establishing authority. Seventy men were chosen and at the given hour, God took some of Moses' power and gave it to the seventy. Two men in the camp also received the power. They prophesied just like those who had been in the tent of meeting. Joshua was disturbed by the lack of order. Joshua was a man of discipline and control. How could those who had not been in the right place at the right time have received the same gift as those who gathered as directed? "Stop them," he said to Moses.

God is not limited by our sense of order or by our fears and uncertainties. Those two men were among those chosen to lead because God chose them. He gave the gift of the Spirit even though they were still in the camp. God proved His authority once again by choosing those outside our expectation and granting the gifts necessary even if the men were not where the people expected them to be. We don't know why they weren't among the other leaders. God doesn't seem to care. They were His chosen and they were given the gift of the Spirit. Joshua was upset that about the men prophesying; he wanted it to stop. Moses answered Joshua's request, "Art thou jealous for my sake? would that all Jehovah's people were prophets, that Jehovah would put his Spirit upon them!"

Moses accepted God's action because he knew that God did what is right and good and true. Moses also looked forward to the day when all God's people would have the power to speak God's Word into the world, a prophecy of what would be in the future. We have very narrow vision, seeing only what fits into our expectation and point of view. God sees the world through a much broader lens. He knows things we can never know. He sees hearts. He understands motive. He recognizes abilities and grants gifts. He knows what has been and what will be.

The disciples had the same problem. They saw a man casting demons in Jesus' name and they were jealous for His sake. Or perhaps they were jealous for their own sakes; after all, by this point in Mark's telling of the story, the disciples had themselves been out healing in Jesus' name. Like Joshua, they told the prophet to stop because "he followed not us." They thought that only those who were part of their group, who thought as they did, could do the work Jesus had given for them to do. But Jesus reminded them that if the man was healing in His name, He would not be able to turn against them.

The power is not the man's, just as the power did not belong to the disciples. The power belongs to God and those blessed with His power cannot turn from the One whom He sent. Those called and gifted by God are blessed to be a blessing, and those that bless then will also be blessed. The point here is that we should not doubt the gifts and the work others do in the name of Jesus and for the sake of our God even when they don't meet our expectations because those gifts and calling are given to them by Him. We worry not for God's sake but for our own because we don't want to lose our power or authority to an outsider.

This text comes right after the passage we heard last week about the disciples wondering who was the greatest. Jesus made it clear that they should be servants to one another. In this story, Jesus continues the thought to include the outsiders, the 'rabble.' Don't doubt what God can do, for God does what He knows to be right and good, whatever our expectations. We are called simply to trust Him and to follow where He leads us because it is the right way to go.

We are reminded how to keep our focus where it belongs: in God and His Word. James tells us that if we are suffering, we should pray. How easy it is, however, to hear the voices of those around us who grumble about problems, who make it seem like the best solution is the extreme solution. How easy it is for us to get caught up in that attitude that complaining is the way to get through our pain. James tells us that if we are happy we should sing songs of praise. Do we? Do we really praise God when we are experiencing good times? Or do we forget that God is the source of all things good? Do we get caught up with the voices that tell us that our triumph has come by our own power and take the glory for ourselves? Finally, James tells us that if we are sick we should seek the help of the elders who will pray for our healing. We will know healing and forgiveness as we keep our focus on the God who provides both in our good times and in our bad.

James also reminds us that we have the responsibility to keep our brothers and sisters focused in the right place. If we see someone falling into the trap of following the rabble, we are to remind them of God's Word and to help them turn back to the right path. We tend to avoid any sort of criticism or judgment because we are afraid to seem intolerant. While it is true that we must be aware that our criticism and judgment can alienate or condemn, our role as Christians is to call people to repentance so that they might know the forgiveness of God and be reconciled with Him and all of God's creation. We are called to help one another see our sin and turn from it, so that we will all dwell in the fold of God's loving arms. It is easier to let the crowd go their own way. It is much harder to trust that God has a plan that will lead us to a Promised Land that is better than anything the world has to offer.

The rabble and the Hebrews could not wait until the day that they would see the promise, so they started looking back to a time that seemed better than the present. Joshua was worried that the two elders who didn't follow the instructions would become troublesome for Moses, or for himself, and so he argued that they should be stopped. The disciples had expectations that were not what God was planning, so they didn't know how to handle things when God did something different. I would become even worse as they drew nearer to the cross because then they would see a world turned upside down.

We are called to trust in the Lord. The psalmist says, "These wait all for thee, That thou mayest give them their food in due season." This life we live in faith may not always go the way we expect it to go. We may experience suffering and pain. We may lose our position to another who is more qualified. We may have to eat manna without meat or wander in the wilderness for forty years. We may have to watch as others have gifts that we thought were limited to those who belong to us.

However, God is the power. He is the authority. It is for Him we work and live. So do others. They might not follow us. They might even disagree with us. But if God has blessed them to be a blessing, who are we to stop them? Who are we to silence their prophecies? Who are we to stop their ministry?

So, let us praise God for every blessing, whether they are the ones through our lives or those that God gives through others. He is at work when the work is done in His name. They can't do a might work in Jesus' name and then quickly speak evil of Him. "For he that is not against us is for us." We might just discover that the one we want to stop is the one whom God has sent to speak the Word we need to hear. He or she might be the one to give us a cold cup of water to drink. They might be the one whom God has called to salt us with fire, to make us grow and mature in faith, to humble us and to bring us closer to God.

He that is not against Jesus is not against us, and therefore is for Jesus and for us. We are no better than the rabble who instigates or the crowd that follows. We are no better than Joshua and the disciples. We fail. We follow the wrong people. We complain and doubt and desire our own way. We want to be satisfied and we seek the wrong things to satisfy us. But God has called us to a new life in Christ. He has forgiven us, giving us gifts and sent us into a world that needs to hear His Word. They need what we have to give. We need to trust that God will use us to share His grace, even when everything seems to be out of our control. Here's the secret: it is better when it is out of our control because then it is in God's. Who is better at this? Can we, the humans, see the whole picture? Or is it the God worthy of our praise who has the answers?


September 24, 2015

"And it was the feast of the dedication at Jerusalem: it was winter; and Jesus was walking in the temple in Solomon's porch. The Jews therefore came round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou hold us in suspense? If thou art the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believe not: the works that I do in my Father's name, these bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who hath given them unto me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one. The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I showed you from the Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? The Jews answered him, For a good work we stone thee not, but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came (and the scripture cannot be broken), say ye of him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do them, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father. They sought again to take him: and he went forth out of their hand. And he went away again beyond the Jordan into the place where John was at the first baptizing; and there be abode. And many came unto him; and they said, John indeed did no sign: but all things whatsoever John spake of this man were true. And many believed on him there." John 10:22-42, ASV

There's a really fun commercial for a car that appeared in the summer. It was released in conjunction with a movie that was in the theaters, a remake of a 1980's comedy called "National Lampoon's Vacation." In the original film, Chevy Chase takes his family on a road trip to Wally World, a fictional theme park. The trip is hilariously disastrous as they run into all sorts of problems along the way. Christie Brinkley has a small role in the film as a beautiful blonde that catches Chevy Chase's eye, first in her hot red convertible along the road and then later at a motel swimming pool.

The commercial plays on this scene. It begins with a family jumping into the car on their way to Wally World on vacation. The husband at the wheel is played by the actor who was Chevy Chase's son in one of the later Vacation movies. Christie Brinkley is the wife. They are traveling down "Holiday Road" when a pretty blonde in a hot red convertible catches the husband's eye, just as it had Chevy Chase thirty-two years ago. She sees what he's doing and says, "Honey, a blonde in a convertible? Seriously?" It is a great commercial, but even funnier when you get the connection.

I am still having a hard time believing it though. I was curious about the wife in the commercial because she looked very familiar, so I went looking on the internet to see who it might be. I was very surprised when I discovered it was Christie Brinkley because the wife looks extremely young, perhaps thirtyish. Christie was twenty-nine when she starred in the original movie, and is now sixty-one years old. She looks like she could be her own grown-up daughter. It is film so they've done some very creative recording. They made Christie look short while Ethan Embry (the husband) look much taller than he is. She's probably well made up, but recent pictures of her show she does truly look much younger than her years. It is still a little hard to believe that it is her. You have to rely on the reports, including Christie's own admission, to believe it is real.

Jesus knew that words would never be enough, even though the very power of His healings and other miracles should have been proof that He came from God. Some of His signs were specifically prophesied as being the proofs that they would need to know that the Messiah had come. They demanded signs from Him even after He gave them more than enough. In today's passage, they want Jesus to stop keeping them in suspense and tell them plainly. Instead of believing, they want to stone Him for blasphemy.

It is all too incredible to believe. Jesus is the Son of God. He is fully man and fully divine. He is the Messiah for which they had longed. He died and rose again. He died for me. He died to guarantee that I'll have eternal life. He took upon Himself the wrath of God because of my sin. Jesus, the perfect unblemished Lamb of God, laid down His life to gain forgiveness for a world full of sinners. His deeds and His words, though they should have been enough, will never be enough for us to have faith. Faith comes as a gift from Him. I have no reason to believe this because I am not worthy of His grace. And yet, by His grace I am one of His sheep and I do believe.


September 25, 2015

"Jehovah, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty; neither do I exercise myself in great matters, Or in things too wonderful for me. Surely I have stilled and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child with his mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in Jehovah from this time forth and for evermore." Psalm 131, ASV

I taught a bible study a few years ago with a group of ladies at our church. We were a small group, but we had wonderful conversations together about God, the world and our lives. Another woman joined our group well after we had established our group dynamics, but we welcomed her with open arms. Every group can use a new voice, especially one that challenges us. And this new woman challenged us.

As a teacher I recognize the difficult balance that I have to create in a group. I need to make sure that we stay on topic and get through the subject matter. I need to respect those who would prefer to listen quietly and give an opportunity to talk to those who want to share. I have to make sure that no one member of the group dominates the conversation, including myself. I'm not always very good at it, especially the part of being quiet so others can talk, but I try. The woman who joined our group was not very good at it, either.

It became a problem in our group for several reasons. First of all, she came from a different Christian upbringing than the rest of us and her understanding of the faith was poles apart from ours. It was good, in the beginning, because she challenged us to think about what we believed and find ways to share it. Unfortunately, she was unwilling to listen to what we had to say. She refused to be challenged and even got angry when we differed from her point of view. She often went off topic pulling the conversation in a direction that suited her agenda, rather than working through the subject of the day with the rest of us. She dominated the conversation, rarely giving any of the other members of the group a chance to talk and then arguing with them if they did.

It did not end well; I lost my patience and blew up. We apologized to one another, but it was never right again. She eventually left the group. Though the other members assure me that it wasn't my fault and that it was probably for the best for all of us including the woman, I still feel a sense of responsibility. Was I haughty? Was I too proud? Did I take on matters that were too great for me? It is humbling to have such a great failure. It forced me to stop and listen for God's voice, to hear His words of forgiveness and encouragement. It forced me to trust in Him and seek His guidance in a new way.

We all have a lot to say; it doesn't matter the topic. Put two people in a room who like different kinds of soda and you'll have an argument. It is even worse when we are talking about politics and religion. Sadly, we rarely do any listening, but constantly fight to put our two cents into the conversation, although for most of us, we actually manage to put in ten dollars' worth because we aren't willing to listen to the other voices. While it is good to firmly believe the things that matter, we must always remember that we are fallible human beings and that we can be wrong. It is important that we remain humble enough to allow others to challenge us so that God can (and He will) guide us in the way of righteousness and truth.

When we are so caught up in our own haughtiness and pride, when we take on matters that are too great for us, we forget to look to the One who has the answers, the One in whom we must trust. Let us quiet our souls so that we can hear God's Word and follow Him.


September 28, 2015

"Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning and be ye yourselves like unto men looking for their lord, when he shall return from the marriage feast; that, when he cometh and knocketh, they may straightway open unto him. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them sit down to meat, and shall come and serve them. And if he shall come in the second watch, and if in the third, and find them so blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched, and not have left his house to be broken through. Be ye also ready: for in an hour that ye think not the Son of man cometh. And Peter said, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even unto all? And the Lord said, Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall set over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will set him over all that he hath. But if that servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he expecteth not, and in an hour when he knoweth not, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint his portion with the unfaithful. And that servant, who knew his lord's will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more." Matthew 11:35-48, ASV

I was on the computer last night playing a stupid online game. It is a casino type game with lots of different ways to play. A few months ago I made a mistake that paid off big and I have hundreds of millions of virtual tokens. When you have it, why not spend it, right? So, I've been playing with higher bids. This means I am also losing a lot of virtual tokens. Here's the thing: the more you lose, the more you are sure that the next hand or spin will be the winner. "Surely this machine can't steal all my virtual tokens!?" So, you raise your bet, hoping this will be the big one. It isn't, but now you have to keep playing the big money to win back what you've already lost. Eventually you think, "Surely the next one is the one!" so you bet even more. It is a vicious circle that ends in hundreds of millions of lost virtual token.

While I was on the computer 'desperately' trying to win back at least a few of my virtual tokens, my family was running in and out of the door, hoping to catch a glimpse of last night's supermoon lunar eclipse. It was very cloudy in our area last night, unfortunately, so we didn't get a very good view. The clouds parted briefly, but we could not watch it from beginning to end. I made a joke on Facebook about the world not ending because I didn't get to see it.

See, there are those who believe that last night's eclipse, along with three others and two solar eclipses in the past two years, timed perfectly with certain special holy days were signs that Jesus could come soon. I'm not one to follow this type of prophecy, except to say that as long as men pinpoint a day and hour for Jesus' return, then God will have to try a different time, since scripture tells us we will not know. I can just hear God mumbling, "They figured it out again, I guess we'll pick another day." I'm joking, of course, because God will do what God will do when God will do it, no matter what we think, know or say. I just don't take those prophecies seriously. I know God can come this minute or in a thousand years. He has a plan; human will or action will not make Jesus come earlier or later. He will come at just the right moment.

That said, I couldn't help but think to myself as I was playing the stupid online game, "Is this what I would want Jesus to find me doing if He did come right now?" The answer is "not really." There was nothing wrong with my game playing. I wasn't wasting real money just a little time. It was well into the evening, and I was just relaxing before bed. I had some dishes that needed to be cleaned. I'm working on reading through the official documents of my church. I could have been watching football with my husband. I could have been painting or writing or playing with my cats. Are any of these tasks things I'd want to be doing when my Lord comes? It all seems so mundane, so worldly. Perhaps I should have been outside watching the clouds, but we know that is not what God wants.

See, God calls us to live as we wait, to use our gifts, to be Christ in this world. That might just mean doing some mundane, worldly things along the way. The dishes must be washed for the sake of the family. We must be prepared with answers when people ask what we believe. We need to spend time with those we love. We need to use our gifts and talents for the sake of others. Perhaps we even need to waste some time playing stupid online games as a way to find some rest (I know, that's stretching it a bit, isn't it? {Insert smilie face here.})

The reason I don't pay much attention to those prophecies is because it is up to us to always be ready. We have to be willing to face Jesus at any moment, no matter what we are doing. If we don't want Jesus catching us playing online games with virtual tokens, then we should never do it, not just avoid it on the nights when prophesy has suggested Jesus might come. We are to be always ready, whether or not someone has said that now is the time. The time could be now; it could also be in a thousand years. The point is that we should never let down our watchfulness and that we should always have our hearts ready.

We should always be prepared to respond when God calls us to do His work today, because He is coming every moment in the needs of our neighbors and He is sending us out to share His Word with them in word and deed even while we wait for His promised return. Jesus won't care if your hands are covered in soap bubbles or if you are clicking bingo spots on a computer screen because He will be looking at your heart and He will see that you are ready and faithful for whatever will come next.


September 29, 2015

"On that day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. And there were gathered unto him great multitudes, so that he entered into a boat, and sat; and all the multitude stood on the beach. And he spake to them many things in parables, saying, Behold, the sower went forth to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the birds came and devoured them: and others fell upon the rocky places, where they had not much earth: and straightway they sprang up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And others fell upon the thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked them: and others fell upon the good ground, and yielded fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He that hath ears, let him hear." Matthew 13:1-9, ASV

There is a video of a girl circulating the Internet who has made it her mission to save the turtles. She's probably from the Southeast United States where there is often a problem of turtles getting hit while crossing the small country roads. She recorded herself saving the turtle with a call to others to stop and save them. "If you see a turtle on the road, save it. They are so cute. Turtles saving is a hobby!" Then she then tossed the turtle into a pond by the side of the road. Seems like a caring, compassionate hobby, doesn't it? Unfortunately, the animal she held has been identified as a gopher tortoise, an animal that does not swim. Instead of saving the turtle, she probably killed it by throwing it in the pond. The gopher tortoises are endangered species and her video might prove to be a problem if the authorities decide to punish her for it. Others have similarly 'saved' these tortoises by drowning them, which is probably why they are now endangered. Her compassion has accidentally brought likely disaster to both the tortoise and herself.

As I read the story about this video, I thought about all the Christians for whom saving people seems to be a hobby. They find someone that they believe needs to be saved, the squeeze their cheeks while mumbling "Aren't you cute," and then bash them over the head with a bible, never really considering the best way to reach them with the Gospel or what their deepest needs might be. See, we don't all hear the Word in the same way, as is obvious in today's lesson. Some will hear with confusion which can be easily twisted and lost. Others will hear it with joy, but that joy will quickly disappear when the expectations of rose covered pathways are replaced with hard times and persecution. Yet others will hear it but not really receive it because they have too many other things on their mind. We have to identify the person to whom we are speaking the Gospel, prepare their hearts and speak to them in a way that will actually have a saving effect. Instead of leading to life, the salvation hobbyists have done more killing than saving.

Sadly, the hobbyists don't just target non-believers; they judge the faith of other Christians. I think sometimes that we work harder to convert one another than we do to share the Gospel with those who have yet to see the light. Sometimes we do need to teach, rebuke and correct our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we try too hard to convert them as if their faith is inferior to ours. I have to admit that I am guilty of trying to convince other Christians that my understanding of faith is the best, although I would never doubt their faith is real. In other words, I want them to join my church, but I'm glad that they know Jesus and are living their faith in the world.

So, let's consider what we are saying and to whom we are saying it, whether it is to a brother or sister in Christ or someone who still needs to experience the saving grace of the Gospel. Those words will fall differently on each: some will be snatched, some will wither and some will be choked. In the end we may do more damage than helping. Prepare the soil, know the one to whom we are speaking, find a way to reach them that will make a very real difference in their life. Salvation is not a hobby, it isn't even up to us. We are called to speak the Gospel to the world so that God can do His work in all our hearts and give us each life in His Kingdom.


September 30, 2015

Scriptures for Sunday, October 4, 2015, Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Genesis 2:18-25; Psalm 128; Hebrews 2:1-13 (14-18); Mark 10:2-16

"Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away from them." Hebrews 2:1, ASV

There was a time when the world was perfect. It lasted about five minutes and then the serpent convinced Adam and Eve that they could be like God. Until that moment, God ruled their hearts, life was forever; Adam and Eve were innocent and happy. Then sin became part of their lives. Instead of being the people God created them to be, they were corrupted, changed in a way that would separate them from the Father who loved them.

First they were created good. I love the imagery in this second account of the creation. There are some who have suggested that the appearance of two different, supposedly conflicting accounts mean that the text had to be written by two different authors. However, it is far more likely that the different accounts simply served a different purpose. The first account, which addresses God with the name "Elohim" (which means "strength") is given so that we will see God as the Creator of all things. The second account calls Him "Yahweh" which denotes the spiritual, moral authority of God. It shows God in relationship with His creation. That is certainly true when we read this story.

Have you ever thought about the names you hear and wonder, "How did someone come up with that?" Anyone who has had a pet or a child knows how difficult it is to come up with a name. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was absolutely certain that I was carrying a boy, and so I made Bruce think of a name and I didn't bother. One night, just a week or so before she was born, Bruce said, "It could be a girl, you know." I said, "I know. If it is a girl we will name her Victoria." Since my firstborn is named Victoria, you can see that he was right. As I tell this story, it might seem as though I put no thought to her name. I didn't, at that moment, but I'd been through the baby name books, considered family names, wondered about the person that child would grow up to be. Though I had never voiced the name before that moment, I think it had always been on the tip of my tongue.

Those of us who name animals and people today have a long history of names from which to choose. While we have to choose, we don't have to come up with a name out of the blue. Of course, there are some people who do. They pick random letters from names or put together syllables in new ways, but most people use a word or name that already exists.

Adam had no names from which to choose. I'm not even sure where the creation of language falls chronologically in the history that underlays the biblical account, except that maybe naming the animals is a simplistic account of that aspect of human development. It doesn't matter, really. What matters is that we look at this story from the point of view that this is an account of the way God calls His people to work with Him in the world. He called Adam to be a co-creator with Him, just as He continues to call us to be like Him in this way. While we will never be able to make something out of nothing, God has invited us to make many things from that which we have been given.

After God and Adam created and named all the animals, God realized that there was no other creature truly compatible for Adam. He needed a helpmate, someone like him, a part of him, of the same flesh and blood. Now, there are those who are bothered by this story because the scientific truth is that men do not have one less rib than women. Though there are always exceptions to the rule, every human being has twelve pairs of ribs. So, we dismiss the story as just a story because our human logic demands it. However, there's something about the word used in the Hebrew that might tell more of the story. Apparently it can also be translated "side." Perhaps it was not just a rib that was used to create Eve, but Adam's whole side? This is strengthened by Adam's statement that she was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. This particular story of Adam and Eve shows us that they were created as one flesh, equal and complimentary, standing side by side together in God's kingdom.

Historically there have always been those who suggest that this creation story makes Eve inferior to Adam, but there reality is that God created Adam and Eve to live and work together with the Father in this perfect world He created. The relationship between Adam and Eve, the marriage relationship, is a vital relationship, the foundation of community. From marriage comes children, the future. God's intention was for people to join together and work together. No man, or woman, can stand on their own. We need to be part of the larger community. The plan for God's people begins with the family. But God did not intend for it to stop there. Families are part of the larger world and we join our families to work together for a common purpose, together we can accomplish God's work in the world.

This is why God used marriage as a parallel to His relationship with the Church. He marries us, binds us with Him in a way that can't be separated and that is eternal. We are His bride and will be forever. Sadly, we try to define our relationship with God in other ways. We call Him friend, teacher, Father. And while we can use these words to define our relationship with Him, they are relationships that in life are temporary. Friends can be separated. Teachers go away and students often surpass the teacher's knowledge. Even the father/child relationship is temporary. Eventually every child must leave home to follow their own life. But the relationship as husband and wife has been defined from the beginning as one that will never end.

The book of Mark compares and contrasts the kingdom of God with the kingdom of the world. Mark begins to show the conflict between Jesus and the leaders very early, within the first couple chapters. They begin plotting in chapter three. So, here we have the Pharisees coming to Jesus with a question. "What about divorce?" they ask. Still on the minds of so many people was the recent beheading of John the Baptist. John was beheaded not because he preached, but because the wife of Herod was offended by his preaching. Herod actually liked John and listened to him. Herod, however, was living with his brother's wife; he divorced his own wife and stole Herodias to be his own. There was so much wrong with this relationship that it is no wonder that John the Baptist accused Herod of doing wrong.

So the question about divorce was not simply to question Jesus about His theological stance on relationships, but to get Him to say something that would make Herod and his wife angry enough to demand another head.

Jesus answered with a question, "What does the law say?" They answered that Moses allowed them to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her. In the Torah, Moses gave the people a law that said it was ok for a man to divorce his wife if she became displeasing to him. Divorce was legal, but the theologians in Jesus' day disagreed about what that meant. What did it mean to displease the husband, what was considered indecent? Some thought it meant only marital unfaithfulness. Others interpreted this passage to mean anything that displeased the man. He could even divorce her if she just burned the toast.

Jesus answered the question through the prism of the creation story. The laws defined women as being inferior, as having no power or control, but God created man and woman to stand with one another. Jesus says that both the man and the woman have a responsibility to uphold the covenantal relationship of marriage and if they don't, then they cause the spouse to sin. This, perhaps, took John's admonition a step further. John told Herod that he should not be married to his brother's wife. Jesus said that both the man and the woman who divorce their spouses cause the other to commit adultery. Herod and Herodias were equal partners in their own marriage, both sinfully breaking relationships for something new.

Adam and Eve were created and they lived in the garden with God. They were innocent and pure, loving the Father who loved them. Unfortunately, in the grand scheme of eternity, it took only a brief moment for Man and Woman to destroy the relationship they had with God. They fell for the lies of the adversary and turned from their God. Once the relationship with God was broken, all the others became vulnerable. As we look around the world today, we see so much suffering because sin builds walls and hardens hearts against those whom God has made for one another. Most of all, we suffer because we are not in fellowship with our Creator. The broken marriage mirrors the very consequence of the sin that became part of us, our broken relationship with God.

How it must have pained Jesus to see how broken His children had become, so broken that they even needed laws to ensure that their brokenness would be handled in an orderly manner. But even the law could not restore relationships, particularly the one between God and His people. Jesus told the Pharisees that while they had the right, and perhaps even good reason, to divorce their wives, they were sinning against God by breaking the relationship. Jesus made it even clearer for the disciples: anyone who divorces and remarries commits adultery because they have broken what God has put together.

But that's exactly why Jesus came to live amongst His people. He came to restore relationships by providing a means for forgiveness: first with God and then with each other. He came to make it possible for people to live in harmony with their Creator, with the creation, and with each other. We live in a broken world, and even after the cross we still have hard hearts against one another because we have not yet been made perfect. The sin that became part of our lives in Eden still plagues us today. We will still sin against God and one another, divorce will still happen. But while Jesus encourages us to do everything possible to maintain the relationships which God has given us, He has provided the forgiveness we need when we fail. He died on the cross to establish a new relationship with His people, a relationship based on faith rather than law.

God created us to be in relationship with Him, with His creation and with each other. Throughout our lives we sometimes fail to maintain those relationships that God has given to us. When we break the connections that link us to others and to all of God's creation, we not only sin against our brothers and sisters, but we sin against God. There is nothing we can do to fix the brokenness of this world, but Jesus can and did. He restored our relationship with God through forgiveness of our sins on the cross.

The psalmist shows us what life is like when our relationships are strong. "For thou shalt eat the labor of thy hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee. Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine, in the innermost parts of thy house; thy children like olive plants, Round about thy table." This blessed life begins with loving God. "Behold, thus shall the man be blessed that feareth Jehovah." Life lived in faith in the kingdom of the world mirrors the life God intends for us in kingdom of heaven.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that God spoke first through the prophets and then through the Son. The Son was not simply a man, but He was the One through whom everything was created. “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being. Man is the image of God, but Jesus was more. He is the Word of God. This passage does not just define Jesus’ divinity; it also defines His humanity. Jesus was fully divine and He was fully human. He was not only one with God, but He came to be in relationship with man as the Son of Man. He came to form a bond that cannot be broken.

"What are human beings that you are mindful of them?" This is a great question. After all, when you consider the entire creation, human beings aren't much. There are nearly seven billion people living on earth at this moment. Best estimates say that there are probably about two hundred billion stars just in our galaxy, the Milky Way. There isn't even a word to describe the number of stars in the entire universe. Someone has guessed that there are probably about a hundred trillion mosquitoes living on the earth at any one moment. There are about sixty-four million house cats living in the United States, but there is no estimate of how many cats (domestic and wild) might live on the earth. In other words, we are pretty rare in the whole scheme of creation. We are not the largest or the smallest. We aren't the strongest, fastest or prettiest. We might even argue that we aren't the smartest. But we were created uniquely in God's image and charged with the care of all that God has made.

Though we have dominion over the rest of creation, we don't have much to brag about, do we? Who are we that God would know us, not only as a species but as individuals? Who are we that God would care about each one of us personally? We are His, created in His image for a purpose. We are created to be part of a community, to be in relationship, not only with each other but also with the world and with our God. This is pretty amazing.

The writer of Hebrews asks, "What are human beings that you are mindful of them?" But he quotes a psalm with one particular human in mind: the new Adam, through whom all things were made. Men and women were given dominion over all creation, but we haven't done a very good job. We have not been the best caretakers of all that God has given us. This is not simply an environmental concern or a concern over the care of the animals. We fail with our human relationships, too. We use our power and resources in the wrong ways. We take advantage of others. We don't share what we have with our neighbors. We are sad and broken people, in need of someone to show us how it should be done. But we need more than just a good example. We need a Savior.

Jesus, the new Adam, being an exact imprint of God's being, a reflection of His glory, sustains all things by His powerful Word. He could, by this power, have made the world perfect with a word, taking all fear and pain away by His grace. Yet, the plan to restore God's people to one another, to the creation and to God required something more than a word. God established a new covenant, a covenant that we could not break, a covenant that was established in and through His own Son, Jesus the Christ, who was born among men to suffer and die for our sake. Then He was raised into new life to be the first of God's children crowned in glory.

The world today is not Eden. We have not been returned to the paradise that existed in that heartbeat before sin entered our lives. We continue to fail to be the people God created us to be. However, we have hope in Jesus Christ, who has promised that one day we will live in the world that God intended, where we dwell together in His Kingdom forever unashamed and without reason to fear. Until that day we have to live together as best we can in His grace.

Adam and Eve had what we long to have. They did not need the Gospel of Jesus Christ because they were created according to God's good and perfect will. It took only a heartbeat for them to destroy not only their innocence and holiness, but also every relationship that would follow, especially the relationship between God and His people. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, however, that we have reason to hope. We hope in the Gospel, the promise that God has and will restore everything as it was meant to be. "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away from them." Let us never forget that which God has done, Christ has done, and the Holy Spirit continues to do in our world. The Kingdom of God is a promise that exists today, now, here. Let us live in faith working with God in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.