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

























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 2022

September 1, 2022

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we certainly can’t carry anything out. But having food and clothing, we will be content with that. But those who are determined to be rich fall into a temptation, a snare, and many foolish and harmful lusts, such as drown men in ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some have been led astray from the faith in their greed, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” 1 Timothy 6:6-10, WEB

Imagine that you are in kindergarten again, and today is show-and-tell day. What would you take with you? There are usually some limits to what the children can take, such as recommending something small enough to fit in their backpack. Most children will search their toy boxes for their favorite toys, but sometimes they’ll choose a souvenir from a recent trip or their favorite book. Some children step out of the box and bring unusual items, especially if they can get permission and help from Mom or Dad. Some show-and-tell about pets or grandmas. Sometimes it is a picture of something they can’t carry.

Kindergarten is not meant to be academic like a college classroom, or even like the older children at their schools. It is very active, and every activity has a purpose. It often seems like the play most of the time, but that play is teaching the students life lessons like how to share and how to work with others. Games help with physical and mental development. Toys help with coordination. Many activities introduce the building blocks for learning: language, math, science. The fine arts like art and music develop different parts of the brain. Though we may look in a kindergarten classroom and think it is just a bunch of kids having fun, that fun is filled with purpose.

One purpose of show-and-tell is to let the child show his or her friends something unique about themselves. But there’s more to it than that. Show-and-tell is about telling. When a student stands in front of the class with something they love, they are more willing to speak, to tell stories, and to open up to the other students. It is about helping build self-confidence and courage to speak publicly. It is about developing language patterns so that others will understand what we have to say. Show-and-tell helps children think about why they like something and how to talk about it to others.

The Bible sometimes talks about material possessions in a negative light because our stuff can often get in the way of our faith. We get so caught up in protecting and collecting things that we miss the true joys of life. We put things before people, and even worse, we put things before God. But our treasures can also help us understand who we are. The trouble comes when we are not content, when we want more. Our attitude about our stuff affects our relationship with our neighbors and our God.

I wonder how many children are jealous of the child that takes a brand-new toy or a sweet puppy to share with their friends. What about us? Do we ever get jealous of our neighbors who have things we want to have? Or do we rejoice with one another at the many blessings we have to share? God does not necessarily command us to give up the wonderful gifts He has given, or the life with which we have been blessed. He simply asks that we be content, satisfied with what we have. Working for a living is not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, the proverbs are very clear that sluggards and lazy people will not find God’s blessings. But the goal in life should never be to have the biggest best toys.

Paul writes, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” He did not say money is evil; He did not say the treasures we would show-and-tell are bad, as a matter of fact, God gifts us with even the things that give us joy. He is just asking us to have restraint, to be satisfied with what we have. We fall into error when we desire what others have. Money is a necessary part of life, and our earthly treasures are blessings from God to give us joy as we live. May God help us to be good stewards of the resources He has given so that we might live content and happy in this world.


September 2, 2022

“Isn’t this the fast that I have chosen: to release the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Isn’t it to distribute your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor who are cast out to your house? When you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light will break out as the morning, and your healing will appear quickly; then your righteousness shall go before you, and Yahweh’s glory will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and Yahweh will answer. You will cry for help, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ ‘If you take away from among you the yoke, finger pointing, and speaking wickedly; and if you pour out your soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light will rise in darkness, and your obscurity will be as the noonday; and Yahweh will guide you continually, satisfy your soul in dry places, and make your bones strong. You will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters don’t fail. Those who will be of you will build the old waste places. You will raise up the foundations of many generations. You will be called Repairer of the Breach, Restorer of Paths with Dwellings.” Isaiah 58:6-12, WEB

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

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

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

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

Jesus does not call us to lead a life of separation like a monk or a hermit. He teaches us to check our priorities. What matters most? What is the purpose of our work? Who are we serving when we start our day. To follow Jesus means putting Him first. It means leaving aside our agendas, our expectations, our desires to do what He has called us to do in Christian faith. As recipients of God’s grace we are called to make Him the priority in our life, to consider His Word when we make our decisions and to walk in His ways as we respond to His call. This is what Paul was telling Philemon: that he should consider God’s grace when dealing with his runaway slave, to do what is right according to God’s Word even when it might mean sacrificing for the sake of another.

Peter Claver was willing to do what he was called to do even when it did not fit into the expectations of the world. He gave his life for the sake of others, making God’s plan His priority rather than the priorities of those in the world. It may have been a sacrifice, but he impacted the lives of many people. We are called to make God our priority, too, to do what is right according to His Word.


September 5, 2022

“Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having the utility belt of truth buckled around your waist, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having fitted your feet with the preparation of the Good News of peace, above all, taking up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; with all prayer and requests, praying at all times in the Spirit, and being watchful to this end in all perseverance and requests for all the saints: on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in opening my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the Good News, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” Ephesians 6:10-20, WEB

I am currently reading a historical fiction novel about the reign of Richard I of England, also known as Richard the Lionheart. He was a crusader who fought against Saladin and the Muslims who had taken over the Holy Land. He had many victories, and though he did not retake Jerusalem, he did finalize a peace treaty and ended the campaign. The crusaders left England in the summer of 1190, but it took him nearly a year to get there because ran into many other situations along the way. He accomplished the conquest of Cyprus and dealt with the island’s ruler Isaac Komnenos who did not cooperate. At one point Richard promised not to put the man in irons, but his rebellion led to his captivity. To keep his promise, Richard bound Isaac in silver chains.

A livery collar is a heavy metal chain often made of gold that is worn by people as a insignia of office often with a badge that denotes their authority and position. They have been in use since the fourteenth century for kings and mayors and other dignitaries, but there were similar marks of leadership for millennia. You will often see them in official portraits and carved into the stone effigies of tombs. These chains are meant to cause those who see them to give due respect for the authority of the person wearing it.

Despite the monetary value of these two sets of chains, they have a very different purpose. The chains Isaac wore may have been worth a lot of money, but they made him a prisoner. The livery chains made the wearer a person of importance and leadership.

Jesus is the focus of our faith and we tend to read the scriptures through His Jewish eyes. Paul was also a Jew, but he had a Roman point of view, so it is helpful to know and understand his letters. He often uses metaphors that are better understood considering Roman practices. Some of his ideas come from a more urban perspective. The sports of Rome often come through his train of thought. The attention to legal issues is more focused on Roman rather than Jewish law.

In today’s passage, Paul writes that he is an ambassador in chains. The Roman legatus or ambassadors probably wore some sort of identifying chain similar to a livery collar. It would have marked their authority before those to whom they were sent. Paul was sent to the Gentile world, to the people who were still lost, to represent the LORD and the salvation of Jesus Christ. He wore chains, although not the kind of chains we might expect of an ambassador. He wore irons, and his were certainly not made of silver. He was deemed a criminal, imprisoned. He suffered for the sake of Christ; but he did it prepared to face the consequences whatever they may be.

His letter to the people of Ephesus helps us today to realize that we have the authority to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but that the world might slap on the chains of bondage to keep us from doing what we are called to do because Satan does have a hold on this world. We need not worry because God has given us everything we need to do His work in the world. If we find ourselves in a place like Paul, we can continue to speak for God until the day when He calls us back home. We are just ambassadors here and He has a place prepared for us when we have done what He has called us to do.

We can fight Satan, by the power of God Almighty. He is our refuge, our strength. Satan tries to undermine the authority we have been given as His ambassadors, but he will fail because we wear the armor of God, and stand on the foundation of His Word.


September 6, 2022

“Further, because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge. Yes, he pondered, sought out, and set in order many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find out acceptable words, and that which was written blamelessly, words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads; and like nails well fastened are words from the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. Furthermore, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. This is the end of the matter. All has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, with every hidden thing, whether it is good, or whether it is evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:9-14, WEB

We have many books in our home, perhaps too many if you ask the movers who have packed, carried, and shipped our household goods over the years. Our book collection includes everything from children’s stories to biographies, books on religion and history, leisure books and old college textbooks. Many of the books are novels that we really enjoyed, so we keep them around in case we want to reread them or loan them to friends. Other books are references used for writing or school projects. A large number are books that we want to read, we simply need to find the time and energy to do so. In many cases, the purpose for reading the books is the pursuit of knowledge, a desire to learn more about life, faith, history, people, or whatever the subject of the book happens to be.

The pursuit of knowledge is a good thing, as long as it doesn’t become the entire focus of a man’s life. When we read the words written by men, we must carefully discern what is truth and what is meaningless. There are many books offered today in the bookstores that provide little to guide a Christian’s life, but they are being sold as the way to understand God. Books on the end times, prayer, self-improvement, social justice, health, wisdom, and prosperity are touted as coming from God Himself but are filled with distortions of the Truth as found in Jesus Christ our Lord. People are being led astray under the guise of Christian writing, because they do not know or understand God’s Word as they should.

This is not to say that all writers should be ignored. Many books are valuable in helping us to grow in faith. God does still inspire His children and speak His Word into their lives. He speaks through writers today, so that we will hear the message of the Gospel in language we understand and that we can apply to our lives in the world today. The only way to discern between the false teachers and those who have been sent by God is to use our Lord Jesus Christ and the written word of God as the plum line. Does what this writer say line up with what God has already revealed about Himself in Jesus and the scriptures?

There are wise people who teach the Gospel. God inspires them to share the message of salvation with the world. All else is meaningless. These final words from Ecclesiastes sum up the pursuit of knowledge - the words gathered should lead one to live in a right relationship with God, or else it is just a tiring waste of time. The one thing that matters to Him is that we live as we were created to live, in reverent and humble service to the One who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

I recently purged my library, but I confess that I still have many books. I enjoy reading for knowledge and entertainment. I am careful, however, to check the messages of those books against what I know to be true before I make it a part of my life. The truth is found in the scriptures and the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Word given to us by God is the only Word that matters when it comes to our living. He has given us everything we need to walk in faith and trust in this life.


September 7, 2022

Lectionary Scriptures for September 11, 2016, Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Ezekiel 34:11-24; Psalm 119:169-176; 1 Timothy 1:(5-11) 12-17; Luke 15:1-10

“However, for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first, Jesus Christ might display all his patience for an example of those who were going to believe in him for eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:16, WEB

The children and teachers spend the first few weeks of the school year getting to know one another and establishing schedules. Some of the children find it easy to fit in and to get into good habits. They have the confidence to jump into every opportunity and throw themselves into the academics and activities available to them. Others are hesitant; they are unsure about where to go and what their teachers will be like. As military children, my children were always able to quickly adapt to new situations and they did well in school even with so many interruptions in their lives.

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

Sometimes the children were not so patient. It is hard to be five and to stand in line for five or ten minutes, sometimes longer. I love interacting with little ones and often helped in the classroom, so I spent that time chatting with Zack and the other children, listening to them tell me about their lives. It didn’t take very long for the children to expect to get a high five or a hug from me along with a listening ear. Some days I nearly fell over when the whole class attacked me.

However, there was one boy who was very shy. He did not want hugs and high fives; he did not want to talk about anything. Each day, however, I said “hello” and offered him my hand. It took a long time - months - but he eventually opened up to me. At first it was just a shy smile or a brief word, but by the end of the school year his smile was bright, and his hugs were long. I could have ignored him after the first couple of rejections, but I did not let it go. Zack’s teacher once told me that those brief moments made a difference to the way that boy performed in school; a little bit of confidence goes a long way.

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

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

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

We took a trip to the shore to celebrate my husband’s birthday and have a time of family fun. Our daughter came home, and our son got off work; it was the first time in too long that we were all together. We visited the beach, played games, watched TV, and had delicious meals together. We caught up on each other’s lives and just enjoyed being a family. Unfortunately, it rained most of the weekend, but we rejoiced that every drop would help with the drought which has plagued Texas.

I have complained recently about the drought in Texas. There are certainly issues elsewhere, but we are in the most severe level of drought. It has finally been raining over the past few weeks, so the drought area is shrinking. We have a long way to go, but things are definitely looking better. We noticed this as we went on vacation last weekend. The roadsides were starting to look green and there was standing water along the roads and in the fields along the path.

There was another indication that it had rained: the American Snout Butterflies were in full force. These butterflies are migratory, and at times the sky can be thick with them. Here is some information from Wikipedia, “These migrations are thought to be triggered by droughts followed by heavy summer rains: the droughts reduce a parasitoid that would otherwise limit butterfly populations, whereas the rains induce the spiny hackberry to grow new leaves which provide food for caterpillars. Furthermore, whereas the droughts send the butterflies into a sort of hibernation, the rains bring them out of it all at once to lay eggs, causing a population explosion.”

We ran into pockets of these butterflies on our way to the shore and on our way home. They can be so thick that they will show up on the weather radar. Once we noticed the radar showing a light rain, but there wasn’t a cloud in the big blue sky. We thought something must be wrong with the weather station that was reporting to his phone. That evening during the weather forecast, the meteorologist showed that the radar had some ground clutter showing up. “Those are the butterflies,” he said. We realized that the butterflies must have been abundant enough at the weather station to trigger to app to report rain.

When I first learned of these butterflies, I wondered if I had ever seen them before they were explained on the news. They seem to come so suddenly, and they look like blowing leaves. Since this usually happens in the fall, once the summer dry days are over and the autumn rains come, you don’t realize at first what you are seeing. They also fly close to the ground. It begins with one or two and then you suddenly see thousands. My car was bombarded, the windshield and grill were covered with the remnants of butterflies that were smooshed by my speeding car.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department often receives calls about swarms of these butterflies. Of course, a biologist at the department provided an explanation for the phenomenon: the weather provided the perfect conditions for an explosion of new butterflies. By virtue of his job, he is more aware of these situations than the average person. The information is reported every year by the news to the general public and when the information is heard, others become aware of the butterflies. Sometimes we need someone to draw our eye to the butterflies to even notice them.

Those of us who know Jesus can’t imagine what life would be like without Him. We wonder at those people who live day after day without some relationship with God. We can’t fathom the atheist who claims there is no God, especially when we see a perfect rose, a brightly colored rainbow or feel a cool breeze on a hot day. We see God’s hand in the coincidences that seem to occur at just the right moment in just the right place to answer our prayers. We see Him in our relationships, in our worship, in our lives as we walk forth in faith. So, we cannot understand how they do not see Him also.

Yet, even as we do not understand how they do not see Him, do we show them? I found it hard to believe there were so many butterflies to affect the radar, but now I know immediately that the “leaves” blowing down the road in swarms, I know it is true. Those who hear us speak the Gospel may not believe when they first hear it. They may not even believe it a week, a month or years after they heard. Once they recognize the truth that God is, they have a hard time missing Him.

Unfortunately, those of us who do know the Lord sometimes lose sight of Him. Our lives are like rollercoasters; this was apparent in the history of Israel. Israel had good kings and bad kings. The story is repetitious: the nation was led by a good king with a heart for God, but his sons and his sons’ sons turned from God until there was a king who did evil in the sight of God. God punished the nation and then raised a new good king. This happened over and over again. This happens to us, too. We have good moments and bad moments. We are human and we get distracted by the temptations of this world.

I spent a few years in retail management. I was with Woolworth’s, working as an assistant manager under a great guy at a store in New Jersey. Another store nearby had an assistant manager that seemed to be doing a great job. He arrived at work extremely early; the district managers assumed he was doing so to get more work accomplished. They thought he was working to prove his worth to the company. Quite frankly, all of the assistant managers worked hard to prove ourselves, the goal was always to get ahead. It made sense that he would be doing everything he could to get the next promotion.

One day the manager discovered that his early arrivals had nothing to do with his career. He was a baseball card collector. We knew this because he had purchased hundreds of dollars of baseball cards. He also stole thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise by walking it out the back door during those early morning hours. He was fired and charged with theft, and I was moved into his position.

Unfortunately, he also managed to get some of the employees involved in his scheme. That assistant manager was hired to lead the employees, to teach them how to do their jobs, and to ensure the success of the store. He not only stole merchandise, but he also destroyed the spirit of that store. Those who lead others have a responsibility to make sure that they do their best to protect not only their own jobs, but they must care for the people and the institutions for which they were liable. We had to find out which employees were involved in his schemes and let them go.

Ancient Israel ran into a similar situation, something God warned them would happen. In the beginning, they had God as their King and He provided prophets and judges to lead them. There were also priests, whose job was to minister to the Lord and administer the sacrifices. Eventually they wanted to be like everyone else; they wanted to be a kingdom with an earthly ruler who would guide their lives. God warned them that earthly kings demand much from the people; some would be cruel and lay heavy burdens on their lives. Some would lead them astray.

He granted their request. Over the years, some of the kings were cruel and the people were led from the path of righteousness. Israel lost their independence, the line of kings ended, and they were left desolate. By the time that Jesus was born, puppet kings were controlled by the Romans. Even the priests and temple leaders were more interested in their own welfare and position than that of the people they were called to lead.

The LORD knew what was going to happen to His people so He promised that He would search for them when they were lost. He was their Shepherd King from the beginning, and He would continue to do so even when they forgot about Him. He promised that though the priests would abandon them for their own selfish desires, He would never let them go. He promised that He would bring them home, give them all they need and tend them as a shepherd tends his sheep. He would not allow any to be lost and all those who suffer would be healed. He makes that same promise to us today when we stray.

He did this by sending Jesus who is our Shepherd, our Savior. Jesus came to fulfill the promises, to fire the bad leaders, to make things right and to return the hearts of God’s people to Him again. It was not an easy task, for only through the cross of humiliation could God’s people be reconciled to Him once again. But Jesus did it; He died for you and for me. Today, we still face human leaders that will lead us astray and put heavy burdens on our lives. There are even such leaders within the church, those who care only for their own welfare and position and who care nothing for the sheep they are called to lead. But God will never abandon His sheep whether they were led astray or wandered away on our own.

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

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

The scribes and Pharisees had not turned to Roman gods, but they were drawn away from God by a much less obvious god: themselves. They relied on their self-righteousness, their obedience to a set of laws and their own interpretation of them. They looked down on Jesus because He willingly lived counter to their expectations. They had forgotten that God is the God of mercy and grace, that He loves all who seek Him and that He seeks those who are lost. They missed that Jesus was the one whom God had sent to bring His people home.

Ezekiel was commanded to give a warning to the shepherds of Israel. “Tell them that they are not taking care of my sheep.” The rulers of Israel were more concerned about their own well-being than that of those whom they were charged with leading. Their lack of care scattered the sheep of their fold, put them in danger of being devoured by the false teachers. The rulers were fat and well clothed, but the people were hungry and lost. God said, “Behold, I am against the shepherds.”

Every warning comes with a promise, and that’s what we hear in today’s Old Testament passage. God will care for His flock, searching for those who are missing, restoring them to the field where they will be fed, and giving them rest. There are always some in every group who are weak and those who are strong. Just as it was true in the days of Ezekiel, it was also true in Jesus’ day. The priests, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees had all the power and they put heavy burdens on the people. They talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk. They did what suited them and expected perfection from others. They didn’t even see their own sinfulness.

It is still true today. Every congregation has people who have power and authority who place heavy burdens on the others. There are many within our congregations who are weak. They don’t have a strong understanding of scripture. They have faith the size of a mustard seed but can’t seem to move mountains with it. They have listened and followed the words of men without knowing which words are truly God’s Word. They have been led astray, and then left to fend for themselves. The church can be the seat of power for some and a place of pain for others. God promises that He will take care of those who have been harmed by leaders who did not care for His sheep.

Jesus loved even the tax collectors and the sinners, so much so that He was willing to set aside societal expectations to have dinner with them. The lesson in today’s Gospel was repeated later in Luke as Jesus met with Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in Jericho. Despite the grumbling of the Jewish leaders, Jesus dined at Zacchaeus’ house with his friends. In the encounter in today’s passage, Jesus reflected on the promise in Ezekiel using parables, reminding them that God would find the lost sheep and carry them home.

There is a time and a place for warning, for speaking the Law, for calling people to repentance. We must remember, however, that we are not more righteous than others just because we are not guilty of their sins. We are still guilty. We need God’s grace as much as they. We get lost, too, by turning our back on God or by being led in the wrong direction. We need to repent, to receive God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ, to be changed by His Word.

In the texts for this week, we are encouraged to see ourselves as God might see us: the good, the bad and the ugly. Jesus didn’t tell the Pharisees that the tax collectors and sinners were good, only that they were in need and that they were willing to listen. It was their willingness that Jesus commended: they had been lost and now they were found. He was rejoicing with them that they saw the reality of their sinfulness and had turned to the only one who could grant them true forgiveness.

The psalmist writes, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I don’t forget your commandments.” God’s Word is both Law and Promise. The Law calls us to repent, to turn to God. The Gospel assures us that He has provided for our forgiveness. We were like lost sheep, but Jesus found us, saved us, and restored us to a relationship with our God. The Great Shepherd will continue searching for those who are missing, restoring them to the field where they will be fed, and giving them rest. When He finds them, He will carry them on his shoulders, rejoicing just as He did for us.

So, let us live in the mercy of God, praising Him for His promises and for His faithfulness. We will fail, one way or another, over and over again. God’s Word is both Law and Promise. The Law calls us to repent, to turn to God. The Gospel assures us that He has provided for our forgiveness. We were like lost sheep, but Jesus found us, saved us, and restored us to a relationship with our God. He will continue searching for all who are lost whether we have wandered away or been led astray. When He finds us, He will rejoice as He carries us home on His shoulders.

We find comfort in these words, knowing that God is always faithful and that He will come looking for us. As we recognize ourselves in these stories, we cry out to God and ask for His mercy knowing He is faithful to His promises. And we, like Paul, receive His mercy so that we might become witnesses of God’s grace.


September 8, 2022

“Shout for joy to Yahweh, all you lands! Serve Yahweh with gladness. Come before his presence with singing. Know that Yahweh, he is God. It is he who has made us, and we are his. We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, and bless his name. For Yahweh is good. His loving kindness endures forever, his faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 100, WEB

We went to the beach last weekend. It was a family reunion, the first time we have gone away with both children. They are grown, but not yet married with children, so it was a good chance for us to catch up and enjoy one another, perhaps for the last time as just the four of us. We didn’t do anything special. Unfortunately it rained, so we spent much of the time in our rented house. We watched TV, played games, and just hung out together. We did visit the beach briefly, went out to eat, and hiked a wetlands preserve. I was thankful for the time we spent together and the things we enjoyed.

I was hoping to get photos of some of the amazing shore birds, but we didn’t see many. We did see pelican, egret, sandpiper, crane, and a few other birds. It was hard to get photos because they were far away from the lookout points. I took more photos of flowers along our path. Though I had a purpose for the hike, it was one of those simple pleasures of life, enjoying nature with my family. We laughed, we watched the birds, we took a selfie.

We played several games. My son really loves the new board games and he taught us the rules for several of his favorites. I’m not really a game person. I’d rather read a book or watch a movie, but it was fun to spend that time together. You don’t talk when you are immersed in a book or a movie, but you must talk when playing a game. Of course, there is always a bit of competitiveness that can be uncomfortable. My son set me up to “die” in one game, but I was able to overcome his scheme and he “died” instead. I felt bad, but it was just a game. Getting over these things is part of being a family. It is a simple pleasure to spend time laughing with those you love.

We even had fun wandering the aisles at the souvenir shop. There are so many kitschy things to find on those shelves. They had a wide variety of seashells and items with logos. There was a whole room filled with t-shirts that were four for $25 and too many hats to try on. We spent money on unnecessary dust collectors, but it was a joy to laugh at all the silly items we could buy. There is nothing life shattering or impactful about souvenir shopping, but simple pleasures make our life better in unexpected ways. It isn’t even an activity you would connect with faith.

What are the simple pleasures that bring joy to your life? The greatest blessings are those in which we see the hand of God working for our sake. It is good, right and true that our blessedness is founded on the cross of Jesus Christ, His mercy and grace. Yet, in the shadow of the cross, it is easy to miss out on the simplest pleasures that bring joy to our hearts. God is active in our world today, continually creating and recreating the world for His glory. In the flowers, our relationships and even in those souvenirs, God manifests His love for us in tangible ways we can see and experience with joy. Sometimes the crosses of life hang over us, threatening our peace and hope, but when we look for God in even the simplest of pleasures and sing for joy with thanksgiving and praise.


September 9, 2022

“Yahweh reigns! He is clothed with majesty! Yahweh is armed with strength. The world also is established. It can’t be moved. Your throne is established from long ago. You are from everlasting. The floods have lifted up, Yahweh, the floods have lifted up their voice. The floods lift up their waves. Above the voices of many waters, the mighty breakers of the sea, Yahweh on high is mighty. Your statutes stand firm. Holiness adorns your house, Yahweh, forever more.” Psalm 93, WEB

My mother shared a birthday with Queen Elizabeth. They weren’t born the same year, but close. My mother’s heritage is English and Welsh; as a matter of fact, her maiden name can be found among the queen’s noble relatives. I loved the film “King Ralph” in which John Goodman is an American who becomes the unlikely King of the United Kingdom after an electrical accident wipes out the British Royal Family. Though unlikely, but isn’t it fun to wonder, “What if?” I have wished her and the queen a happy birthday every year for as long as I can remember, even after my mom’s death.

We spent four years in England. One of my favorite memories is the day we visited Westminster Abbey. Most of you are probably familiar with the Abbey, as it is one of the most famous places in London. It is the site of royal coronations. Princess Diana’s funeral took place at the Abbey Church as well as Will and Kate’s wedding. The site is filled with incredible art and architecture. It is a thousand years old and tells the history of England. It is filled with the graves and monuments of kings and queens, heads of state and other national figures. There is even a corner of the church dedicated to literary figures like Chaucer, Browning and Tennyson. Scientists such as Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin are buried there. As is William Wilberforce, who fought for the end of slavery in England. It is a building filled with dead people, and that’s why so many people visit. The tombs are magnificent and the history fascinating, so it is worth the trip.

We visited around lunchtime on a weekday and while we were wandering through the chapels with the rest of the tourists, we overheard an announcement inviting visitors to a brief communion service they have during the lunch hour each day. We were excited about the opportunity, after all, how often do you get to worship in such a grand and historic place! We asked for help from the vicars who were scattered around the church to help visitors and they led us to the worship area. The congregation was about twenty-five people, and I was taken aback that so many were more interested in the dead people’s tombs than the Living God who was about to offer Himself to us as we worshipped. It was a brief but lovely service, we received communion along with the others. I was struck by the reality of what happens at the communion rail during that service: I was kneeling where kings and queens (perhaps even Queen Elizabeth), world leaders, and famous people had knelt to receive the body and blood of Christ. I realized that there on our knees God saw us all equally. He sees everyone through Jesus-colored glasses who comes humbly to His table.

I may joke about being a royal many times removed, but I would never expect that same equality in the world outside worship. Oh, God loves me as much as He loves Queen Elizabeth, but I don’t think I should take that as an invitation to go hang out with the royal family. I like to tell everyone that one of my claims to fame (or so I joke) is that I’ve eaten at every one of Queen Elizabeth’s homes. I had tea at Sandringham, her country estate in Suffolk. I had a ham sandwich while walking around the gardens of Buckingham Palace. I had sugar cookies at Windsor Castle and a chocolate bar at Holyrood in Edinburgh. Finally, I had tea and an apple at Balmoral, the queen’s country estate in Scotland. Of course, I ate the food as a tourist, not as a guest, items purchased in the tea or gift shops. The ham sandwich was the lunch we carried with us from home on the day we visited London.

Silly, I know. We could tell that the queen was in residence at Windsor when we were there because her flag was flying, but for some reason she didn’t come to the garden and invite me inside. I can still claim that I ate at every one of Queen Elizabeth’s homes. I must stretch the truth a little bit, especially at Holyrood, because we were unable to go into the palace the day we visited. Once again, the queen was in residence and the gates were shut to tourists for her safety and comfort. I explained my quest to one of the guards and he was kind enough to allow me to stick my foot through the gate so that I would be “standing” in the palace grounds when I ate my chocolate. I know it is a silly claim to fame, but I like to tell the story.

One of the clerks in the gift shop of Holyrood let us in on a secret when we were there. She told us that the queen liked to mingle with visitors at Balmoral when she was in residence. She also told us that she would be there a few days later. We were still going to be in Scotland, so we decided to make the very long drive on tiny Scottish roads blocked by flocks of highland sheep to see if we might catch a glimpse. The place was all abuzz when we arrived, as the staff prepared for the upcoming visit. We didn’t know when she would arrive but knew she would get there by helicopter. We took the tour and sat down in the tea shop for a bite to eat as we waited. Unfortunately, the long trip meant that we had to leave too early, so we missed meeting her that day.

She was such a gracious and generous monarch, and it was nice to know that she took the time to mingle with the visitors to Balmoral. I’m sure that she saw it as a safe place. We drove for at least five hours from our hotel. It was the farthest north we visited during our time in England, and it is out in the countryside. It was easy to protect the queen from crowds and it is an idyllic setting for relaxed interaction. As we mourn her death today, I have seen so many posts with pictures of her interacting with the crowds and you can see that she enjoyed being with her people. Unfortunately, for her safety she had to allow a wall to be built to protect her while still being available to those who loved her. One of my favorite recent pictures was taken at a newly built train station that was named in honor of her the 70th anniversary of her ascension to monarch showing her buying the first train ticket. She looked so joyful doing something so mundane.

Seventy years, seven months and two days is a long time to stay in one job. During that time, she served with fifteen prime ministers and fourteen U.S. presidents (she met thirteen). She gave her assent to more than 4,000 Acts of Parliament. She visited well over 100 countries during her reign, traveling nearly ten million miles. She reigned so long that they had to update her image on the currency, with a total of five portraits used. On a personal note, she had four children, eight grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren. She loved dogs and owned more than 30 Corgis and Dorgis during her reign, most of which descended from her first Corgi, Susan, which was given to Elizabeth II when she turned 18 in 1944.

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary succeeded her father, King George VI, on February 6, 1952. Due to the illness of her father, she was already performing the duties attributed to the monarch of this land, however it was not until his death her position became official. Even at his death, it was necessary to go through the pomp and circumstance of her crowning. A royal coronation is not a simple affair. It takes some time to plan and execute such an event. The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth did not occur until June 2, 1953. Every detail needed to be perfect, every person properly briefed, and every item in its place. Pictures and video from this glorious day certainly show the outcome of hard work and painstaking attention to detail. Now an equally important ceremony will be planned as we lay this beloved woman to rest. She has joined her husband Philip in eternity under the watchful care of their Lord, Jesus Christ.

Those of us who do not live under a monarchy often wonder at the relevance of it today. Those of us who are Christian know that such rule was never what God intended. In the story of Samuel, the people were concerned that they didn’t have a proper leader, and they wanted to be like the other nations. They wanted a king. They had a king, but they wanted a man who would rule over them in a way that was visible not just to themselves but to the world. They thought they needed to have a king who could lead them, provide for them, and protect them from enemies. They rejected God to take upon themselves an earthly king no matter what he might do to them. They accepted the consequences of their choice, and the ultimate consequence was that God gave them a king to lead them, provide for them and protect them. It didn't take very long for the people to realize that an earthly king is imperfect and even dangerous. We don’t have a monarchy in the U.S. today, but we are as drawn to the idea of a leader to lead us, provide for us, and protect us from our enemies. We looked to earthly leaders instead of relying on our God who is our true King.

God’s faced difficult times, particularly when the earthly kings turned away from God, but God never completely abandoned His people. A good king came along every few generations and God blessed His people with safety and prosperity. The suffered at times, too; defeat from enemies and exile were the consequences when they turned from God, led by the kings who did not have faith. England had some bad kings over the years that did not glorify God.

Thankfully all human leaders are temporary. We might want a good ruler to last forever, but even the best fail to be perfect. Queen Elizabeth was a good queen who did many great things for her country and for the world. She wasn’t perfect, however, and there are those who have pointed out her failures. She’s human, after all, and we are all sinners in need of a Savior. While earthly kings can do good in this world, we all need to look to the one King who has done that which is necessary for life.

Earthly leaders come and go, some good and some not so good. They serve, sometimes the people they are charged with ruling and sometimes their own self-interest. On a day like today, when we are mourning a loss of one of the good ones, we can always remember that she was a gift from the true King, our Lord God Almighty. We can thank Him her for her gracious service to the people of the world, but let us remember that that He is the only one worthy to be praised. He is from everlasting and will be forever and ever. He will never be like any of the human monarchs or leaders that have ruled on this earth. Our great eternal King saved us from ourselves and the imperfections of our fallen world and has promised that we will join Him in His Kingdom for eternity.

I am so thankful that Queen Elizabeth was a part of my life, even if it was a relationship beyond my grasp. I am even more thankful that we have a King who is so close that He dwells in our hearts. Queen Elizabeth’s life is as an example for us because she lived as one with faith, humbly serving her people with her whole heart, honoring the God who is her King. It was especially obvious in the last few years that Queen Elizabeth lived daily in the assurance that He reigns, and can we live today in that same assurance that we will join her someday in eternity and dwell with Him forever.


September 12, 2022

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we won’t be afraid, though the earth changes, though the mountains are shaken into the heart of the seas; though its waters roar and are troubled, though the mountains tremble with their swelling. Selah. There is a river, the streams of which make the city of God glad, the holy place of the tents of the Most High. God is within her. She shall not be moved. God will help her at dawn. The nations raged. The kingdoms were moved. He lifted his voice and the earth melted. Yahweh of Armies is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. Come, see Yahweh’s works, what desolations he has made in the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth. He breaks the bow, and shatters the spear. He burns the chariots in the fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.’ Yahweh of Armies is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.” Psalm 46, WEB

Twenty-one years ago, on September 11, 2001, I wrote about something incredibly mundane: road construction. I talked about how there was major road construction on the roads leading to our house in Arkansas, making it difficult to get home. I could write on exactly the same subject today, just the names of the roads would be different. I noted how they do much of their work at night using incredibly bright lights so they can see, lights that overcome the darkness. The devotion then spoke about how the Gospel is our light in the darkness, giving us the courage to walk in faith in a world that is losing site of God.

I wrote words then that are still relevant today, “In today’s world, many Christians are concerned about the evil that is seemingly overtaking our society. Books, movies, and music show the things that are bad to be good and vice versa. Children appear to be maturing much too quickly but are making decisions about drugs and sex long before they are old enough to really understand the consequences. Political correctness and tolerance are opening the doors to acceptance all sorts of worship, turning people from the truth that is Christ. Many Christians are afraid to be in this world today, so they reject it and live in a bubble surrounded only by Christian things. Unfortunately, this means that we are not being a blessing to those who truly need to see the light of Christ. We get lost and risk falling prey to false piety and false teachers who teach a false gospel.” The devotion was a call to trust in Jesus, our Light, and to continue to work for His glory.

Then several planes struck, killing and injuring thousands and upsetting our mundane existence in this world and our indifferent attitude.

On the day following 9/11, I wrote, “This is probably the hardest writing I’ve ever had to do. As I sit here today, still in shock with the rest of America and much of the world, I simply do not know what to say. There are a million things that need to be said, but there is no pretty way to put them on paper. It is senseless to rehash the events that have left us dazed, confused, afraid, angry, grieving and in pain. As much as we long to respond to the horrifying things we saw happen in New York and Washington, D.C. yesterday, it is useless to lay blame at this juncture. In the aftermath, I heard much talk about vengeance, salvation, and the coming of our Lord. Many are ready to jump into action - calling for death to the perpetrators, forcing faith on the lost, and giving up on this life and the world our God created.”

The conversations are much different on this September 12th than they were twenty-one years ago. We know who to blame. We know the affects that the attack had not only on those who died and were injured, but on their families. Twenty-one years ago we promised not to forget, yet I imagine that there were many who let yesterday pass without even a thought. In some ways, I suppose it is good that we have gotten past the original emotions of that day. It is not good to spend time dazed, confused, afraid, angry, grieving and in pain. It is not good to continue to lay blame and talk about vengeance. It is not good to live as victims demanding retribution for sins committed against us.

It is good to move on, but we call for remembrance of 9/11 not because of what happened that day, but because of what happened the next. We became unified. We joined together in prayer. We took care of one another. Roads were still under construction, but for a brief time we were more patient with one another. We set aside our disagreements and loved one another. The attitudes of September 12, 2001 have long disappeared and we are perhaps more indifferent than we were then. We are certainly not unified; as a matter of fact, we are more divided than ever. I saw many posts and heard many people reference that we will not forget 9/11, but too many of those same people refuse to respect anyone who differs. People publicly condemn opponents. Hate and violence is rampant. We still help our neighbors when there is a need, but we are more particular about who deserves our compassion. Sadly, I think we are still dazed, confused, afraid, angry, grieving, and in pain, not from an attack from outside like we experienced in 2001, but from perceived enemies who are our neighbors.

We are God’s and we will one day stand face to face with our Savior, basking in His glory and worshipping Him for eternity. But for today, we must continue to do the work we have been called to do. We cannot allow any enemy whether from without or within to cause us to live in darkness, mistrusting our neighbors and condemning them. We cried out to God twenty-one years ago, seeking His grace in our pain. We forget in those mundane moments when our biggest worries are whether the road will be open when we want to drive that God is still our God, that He has called us to live in grace and compassion, to forgive when we have been hurt, and to live according to God’s word. We are to daily remember who we are and whose we are, always ready to meet our Master by serving Him in spirit, truth, and flesh. Our work for His Kingdom of grace, peace, and reconciliation is our daily sacrifice and our true worship.

Whatever our circumstances, in joy or grief, mundane or extraordinary, God is the One True and Living God whose hand moves mountains and whose love melts hearts. Praise Him, seek Him, pray in Jesus’ name for your every need and walk in faith that He will provide. Turn to the Lord, your God and He will be with you.


September 13, 2022

“For I desire to have you know how greatly I struggle for you, and for those at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; that their hearts may be comforted, they being knit together in love, and gaining all riches of the full assurance of understanding, that they may know the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden. Now I say this that no one may delude you with persuasiveness of speech. For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in the spirit, rejoicing and seeing your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:1-5, WEB

My mother was a seamstress. She managed a fabric store and made many of the samples that they displayed. She also made some of my clothes. I confess that I didn’t always like the outfits she created, and even now I look back on the pictures from those years and shake my head. Who would choose that material for a pair of pants? Perhaps it was in style then, but... yuck. She did make some beautiful baton costumes for my sister and I, though. We had pretty velvet leotards bedecked with rhinestones and fringe, I’m sure they were as nice as we could have bought, and probably cost a lot less money. She also made me several evening gowns that were lovely.

I didn’t learn how to sew so well. I took a class in Junior High and managed to put together whatever we were supposed to make. I remember creating a pillow and a wraparound skirt. I had a sewing machine that I carried with me for many years, using it for very simple Halloween costumes and craft projects. But I never really learned to properly use the machine; I had difficulty with even the simplest techniques. I couldn’t figure out how to make the tension right and I even failed at filling the bobbins. The problem was not the machine, it was my inexperience and lack of knowledge. I recently gave it away; my friend had it serviced and it was in perfect condition. I’m amazed by those who can do incredible things on their machines, some of which are very fancy. I’ve seen machines that do embroidery and create lace. There were things I would have liked to make with it, but I don’t have the time to take up another hobby, so it was best to give it to someone who would use it.

One very popular trend is to make quilts out of old t-shirts. The seamstress cuts the print on the t-shirt into a square and then sews the squares into a quilt. This is a great memory project: any student can tell you that they have dozens of shirts from all the events and organizations they attended. One quilt I saw at a gala for a summer camp had t-shirts from many different years. College quilts are always popular. These quilts are not as easy as you might think because the t-shirts are often made from different material or were more or less worn, so the seamstress must find a way to put these mismatched materials together in a way that will wear well throughout the years. Different materials need different tension, sometimes even different thread, so the seamstress must carefully piece it together in a way that will make them all work together.

Christians are like those different fabrics. Some are like satin and lace, others like wool or denim. Some are solid colors; others are covered with bright, intricate patterns. You can’t sew silk and corduroy together, but somehow God does it. He takes old pieces of t-shirts and incorporates them into taffeta. He can create something incredibly beautiful out of bits and pieces that should never go together. I like the language used by “The Message” for today’s passage, “I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God.” It is God that does this. He pieces us together and is glorified by the Kingdom that we become by His creative works of grace. We might not seem to fit together. We might not think we can work as a whole. By the faith that is a gift from our Creator we can stand together, trusting that God will do what we cannot.


September 14, 2022

Lectionary Scriptures for September 18, 2022, Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-15; Luke 16:1-15

“If therefore you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” Luke 16:11, WEB

What is our motivation? Why do we do what we do? This is not a matter of salvation because our faith is not dependent on the things that we do. However, as Christians we are called to examine ourselves to determine the state of our hearts. Are our motives good and right and true before the God of our faith? When we are at church, are we anxious to be somewhere else? Are we more focused on our daily troubles than on the eternal promises of God? Is our service to others half-hearted or self-centered? If we live our faith for the wrong reasons, we will not give God the honor He deserves. He wants more than our bodies. He wants our hearts.

This has always been a problem with God’s people, as we can see in the passage from Amos. We do not know their motivation, but they were obviously not experiencing God with their hearts and souls. They were not only anxious to be finished with their worship, but they did not take their faith into the world. They robbed the poor and cheated the needy. They cared only for taking care of themselves. This is sadly true of many in our world today, but we are reminded that God could see their hearts and that He can see ours, too.

So, why do we do what we do? We can’t read the state of someone else’s heart, but we can examine our own. What is the state of our hearts? What happens in our daily lives both religiously and secularly? Do we take our faith with us or do we keep it hidden and private? God sees the heart and knows when we are not motivated to praise Him with our whole selves. Shouldn’t we be honest enough to examine our motivations and then seek God’s help in doing what is right?

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

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

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

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

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

I once read a post from an atheist who wrote, “Do not pray for me.” This has been repeated many times in the years since. The author did not believe that there is a God, so considered prayer a waste of time and energy. Unfortunately, in recent times, many people think that prayer is a cop-out, a way to avoid doing the hard things by claiming to do an easy thing. Or what they think is an easy thing. What does prayer accomplish for a person who is suffering? As a Christian, I find it hard to understand the author’s point of view because even if he does not believe, I do. Why should anyone mind that I want to take my time to say prayers for him? As for the argument that people pray to get out of doing something tangible, I don’t think it is true. The people I know who pray are the most likely to step out in faith to help.

I suppose I do understand the author’s point of view, after all, what is it we are praying for when we pray for someone like him? A comic that looks at the texts for the week in a humorous way approached this very subject. In the first frame, a character asked why we should pray for all those in authority, even if they aren’t very good. The answer was that we pray for them, not to them. The first character took this all wrong, “Oh! I like that! And we can pray for them for whatever we want!” Those who do not want us to pray for them suspect that our prayers are not what they would want, but what we want for them. We may consider our prayers what is best for them, but we are as human as the next guy and our motivation for prayer is not always what is good, right, and true according to God’s Word. All too many of our prayers are spoken to God for the wrong reasons.

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

Paul wrote to Timothy, “I exhort therefore, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks be made for all men.” We are commanded to pray. That is why we find it so hard when someone tells us they would rather we did not pray. Prayer is our way of showing our support, of bringing our hopes and concerns before someone who is greater than us. It is through prayer that we find some sense of peace in the situation. Prayer does not always bring about the answer we hope, but we pray in confidence that God has heard and that He will so what is best. Most of us admit that we hope there will be a change of heart. We do pray that they will become more like us because from our point of view that is the only way to solve the problem.

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

We struggle with similar issues today, but we are called to pray for all our leaders whether we see them as good or bad. We just need to learn how to pray as God intends.

When we pray for someone, truly and really pray for them without an agenda, we can’t help but connect with them in a very real way. When we allow God’s grace to color our prayers, we see those for whom we are praying from a new perspective: from God’s heart. If we are constantly praying for them to become like us, we see only how they are different. We pray for change, and we take that prayerful attitude into the work we do. If we want them to change, we’ll do anything to ensure the prayers are answered to our satisfaction.

But we are fallible humans, and we don’t know what God knows. We don’t have the whole picture. As much as we hate to admit it, we are not always right. One thing we do know is that God is faithful, and He will be with us. Also, He wants all people to be saved. He has invited us to help but He hasn’t told us how He will accomplish it. He hardened Pharaoh’s heart to save the nation of Israel. He might be doing something similar with those for whom we are praying. He only asks that we live the tranquil and quiet life so that men will see the God of grace in our lives. Our prayers, and the actions brought about by our prayers, will stand as a witness to God’s love in this world. He will take care of the rest. He knows what He intends, He knows hearts and He is faithful. As we live in this truth we can pray for others, whether they are unbelievers or enemies, with thanksgiving, knowing that God has purpose for them, too. We can pray for them even if they do not want us to but let us always remember to pray God’s will for them, not ours. We are to be humble before our God and remember that He knows what we do not know.

Today’s Gospel is one of the most difficult texts we deal with from Jesus. The reason it is difficult is because we don’t understand how Jesus could use such a rascal to make a point about the Kingdom.

Jesus seems to use the actions of a dishonest business manager to teach a positive lesson about stewardship. This parable comes after the Pharisees and scribes complained that Jesus welcomed sinners and tax collectors (Luke 15:1). Jesus then told them three parables: Luke 15:1-7 (the lost sheep), Luke 15:8-10 (the lost coin), and Luke 15:11-32 (the prodigal son.) In these parables, Jesus emphasizes God’s love for those that the Pharisees reject and despise. He then finishes this series with the parable of the unjust steward and a lesson in stewardship. Jesus has a way of twisting our expectations to make us consider how we use our resources and what is the goal. If we look at this parable in its context, we see that Jesus searches out the lost, takes care of those who the Pharisees (and us) do not think are worthy of our concern or worth our time. Jesus cared for the needy and the outcast. He mixed with sinners, Samaritans, and tax collectors. He healed the sick. He died on the cross. His ministry was a concrete demonstration of love. He calls us to exhibit tangible compassion.

This is a story about a dishonest manager who was trusted by a big business owner. He had the authority to do business in his master’s name and only his behalf. The word describing this man is sometimes translated “slave,” but the Greek does not necessarily indicate this fact. The Greek root means stewardship. This was a position of authority, a trusted and perhaps even beloved member of the household. This manager was powerful. Responsible. He was in a lucrative position.

We automatically picture this man as being a crook, but in the first verse the master calls his steward to account because of mismanagement (“wasting his possessions”.) The dishonesty comes later when the steward tries to cover-up his mishandling of the master’s money. If the manager was being charged with thievery, it is unlikely the rich man would have allowed him the time and access to make the changes to the accounts. He would face ruin if he was fired. He decided to win himself influential friends.

The discounts were different, but both were worth about 500 denarii. This action on the part of the steward was not illegal. The steward had the authority to create and modify contracts. He did it hurriedly because he had little time to hand over his papers to be audited.

What bothers us most is that the owner (which we assume is Jesus) praised the unjust steward. Perhaps a better word to use than dishonest, especially considering the interpretation, would be “shrewd.” There are several possible reasons why the owner might praise the manager. He may have given up his own commission, so the owner did not lose anything. Interest was prohibited by the Old Testament, so perhaps the manager canceled the interest which would have brought the master in line with the Law. It is possible that the master would have looked bad to those with whom he did business if he publicly rejected the manager. The manager’s actions would have helped to make the master look better in his religious and business circles.

The master may have deplored the manager’s action but still praised his shrewdness. The unjust steward is a worldly man. Jesus points out that worldly, non-Christian people are often shrewder and more sensible in their own affairs than are the people of God with the things of God. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus told the disciples to be “shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.” As Christians we need to be aware of how we are using our resources, using foresight to gain for ourselves “friends who will welcome us.” To be shrewd means to use our resources in the best way possible, and to be innocent means doing so in a way that glorifies God.

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

Worldly wealth is not necessarily ill-gotten gains. The scriptures, particularly the book of Proverbs, teaches us who to make good use of our worldly wealth, which is temporary, perishable. It will end. Have we used our worldly wealth well when we had it? Are we using today’s wealth to prepare for the future? Our present way of life will come to an end, so we are faced with the reality of God’s kingdom. From a very practical, worldly perspective, are we using today’s wealth in a way that others will be willing to help us if our wealth fails? We are not to live for this world but for the next, to make friends by means of our financial resources. Think about the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. What might have happened after he died if the Rich Man had made friends with Lazarus by using his worldly wealth to make life better for him. His wealth was useless after he died, it meant nothing for his eternal future. We are to use our wealth generously with eternity in view. If the Rich Man had made friends with Lazarus, Lazarus would have welcomed him into heaven.

Prepare for the future crisis of judgment by practical generosity in the present. Invest your money in God’s Kingdom, not in this temporary and insecure world. This is not to suggest the way into heaven is by charitable good works, but those who are blessed with wealth are called through faith to use their wealth properly. How we invest our pounds and pennies reflects and influences our attitudes. Money is trivial, but the use of money is a measure of faithfulness and fitness for more. Everything material is not evil, and the material world is not everything. Money is temporary but has value when used properly. Money is temporary and should never become a distraction or our master. Used wrongly, wealth can even become our God as it did for the Rich Man who ignored Lazarus.

The dishonest manager may have been using his unrighteous mammon in all the wrong ways in the beginning, but in the end he shrewdly used it in a way that looked to the future, and Jesus commended his shrewdness. Jesus is not anti-material or anti-riches, but He calls us to share our resources so as to lay up treasures in heaven. We are to invest in God’s Kingdom, to be practically and not just theoretically committed to the exciting world-changing mission that Jesus began. Generosity with our worldly wealth brings together all people with unity and equality. Fellowship is practical sharing.

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

We should always remember, however, that we are also unrighteous people doing dishonest things with the resources our Master has given us. We have never been very good stewards of God’s gracious gifts. We are wasteful, greedy, and dishonest. We fail at using those resources to build up the kingdom and take care of the needs of our neighbors. We are like that unrighteous manager and God calls us to account. How will we make use of our resources to heal broken relationships? We are put in charge of worldly wealth for a time. Will we use that wealth in a way that makes us right with one another and our God?

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

Jesus says those who are faithful with little will be faithful with much. Are we being faithful with the Christian life we are called to live? Are we being faithful with our resources, with our prayers? God sees our hearts and knows our motivations. Luke writes is talking about important things: spiritual and eternal riches. If someone is not trustworthy and honorable with the things of this world, how can they possibly handle the things of God? Jesus knows those who can be trusted with the work of His kingdom, He knows the hearts of those who will serve Him well. There are many who take advantage of the gifts of God for their own sake, but God knows those who have been faithful with their worldly wealth, and He will bless them with so much more.


September 15, 2022

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Most certainly I say to you, a rich man will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven with difficulty. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into God’s Kingdom.’ When the disciples heard it, they were exceedingly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Looking at them, Jesus said, ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” Matthew 19:23-26, WEB

The Bible is a collection of stories about people and their relationship with God. Each one is individual. Each one has a unique purpose. Each one their own virtues and vices, and God dealt with each one according to His will for their lives in His story. Though the Bible is a like a library with sixty-six books that tell those individual stories, it is also one book that tells the story of the one God who is revealed in creation and in the person of Jesus Christ. Though we don’t meet Jesus until the book of Matthew which is 59% into the book, He is there in the stories we read in the Old Testament. As John tells us, He was there in the beginning and He is there at the end, on every page.

We read the stories of all those characters because they show us how God interacts with His people. He walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden until they sinned against Him. Even though Cain slew his brother, God marked him so that he would not be killed by another. Noah was a righteous man and walked faithfully with God, which is why He saved him and his family from the flood. He met with Moses face to face in the Tabernacle. He cared for Elijah even when Elijah just wanted to die. He gave Jonah a second chance to preach to the Ninevites, even though Jonah tried to run away. We can make similar statements about the characters in the New Testament, like Peter the denier, James and John the sons of thunder, and Paul the persecutor. God dealt with each one with grace.

If someone asked you about Abraham, it is likely that you would quote the line from Romans 4, “it was credited to him as righteousness.” This same quote is repeated in other New Testament texts, and it points back to Genesis 15 when Abraham believed God’s promise and it was credited to him as righteousness. So, we think of Abraham as a man of faith from the beginning. But Abraham’s story is much different than Noah’s. Abraham worshipped other gods, the gods of Ur. Abraham did not know the LORD when he first heard His voice. God chose him anyway.

God chose Abraham because He had plans. The whole story is ridiculous to us because God promises land to a nomad and offspring to a seventy-five-year-old with a barren wife. How could God bless the whole world through this one non-believer? As we read the rest of Abraham’s story and see how often he failed to live up to that faith that we have made the center of his life, we wonder if God couldn’t have chosen someone better to be the one from whom the nation of Israel came forth. Perhaps Israel would have been more faithful if God had made that promise through Noah who was chosen because he was a righteous man who walked with God.

But it is not up to us to play back-seat driver to God’s plan. The very things that we would use to discredit Abraham are the very things that make him the perfect choice for God. How much more powerful is Abraham’s faith because he did not know God until he first heard His voice? How much more powerful is the story of Isaac when we realize how perfectly impossible it all was, including the call of Abraham to sacrifice his child. Abraham followed an unknown God to an unknown place, and though he failed along the way, he always believed. Isn’t that our story?

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story in today’s scripture passage. They all quote Jesus saying, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” Our story might not read exactly like Abraham’s, but we can be comforted by the fact that God chooses based on His grace, not our gifts. We can be comforted by the fact that God forgives us when we fail, and He gives us second chances. We can be comforted by the fact that God is faithful to His promises even when they seem impossible, because He is the one who can make all things possible. This we believe, and it is credited to us as righteousness.


September 16, 2022

“Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are revealed to God, and I hope that we are revealed also in your consciences. For we are not commending ourselves to you again, but speak as giving you occasion of boasting on our behalf, that you may have something to answer those who boast in appearance, and not in heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God. Or if we are of sober mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ constrains us; because we judge thus, that one died for all, therefore all died. He died for all, that those who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who for their sakes died and rose again. Therefore we know no one after the flesh from now on. Even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:11-19, WEB

Today we remember St. Cyprian of Carthage. Cyprian lived in the third century, relatively early in the history of Christianity. The Romans were still in power, but it was a time when some of the emperors embraced Christianity and others tried to return Rome to the old ways. Cyprian was from Carthage; though far from Rome, Carthage was still under Roman dominion. It was a time of peace. The people were comfortable, happy and secure. Unfortunately, it is during peaceful times when we lose touch with our faith because we have no need to rely on God. We do not need deliverance. We do not need salvation. So, we forget all that He did and remember only our own accomplishments.

Cyprian was a late convert, not coming to faith until his forties, but as a learned man and a powerful speaker he quickly rose to the rank of Bishop in the Church. He was unhappy with the state of the Church; there was a lack of discipline. Many of the Christians, including the clergy, were living like the pagans, no longer living as God had called the people of faith to live, separate even while living in the world. There were instances of fraud and swindling. The clergy was so ignorant of the Word of God that they could not properly instruct the new Christians. The line between heresy and orthodox belief was so shady that many could not recognize the difference. When the persecution under the emperor Decian began, the Christians had no firm foundation on which to stand and many turned to the old pagan ways.

The scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day had not turned to the Roman gods but they were drawn away from God by a much less obvious god: themselves. They relied on their self-righteousness, their obedience to a set of laws, and their own interpretation of them. They called Jesus a sinner because He ate with sinners and tax collectors. They had forgotten that God is the God of mercy and grace, that He loves all who seek Him. They missed that Jesus was the one whom God had sent to bring His people home. They did not understand His preaching. As they understood righteousness, the people represented by the lost sheep and the lost coin like the sinners and tax collectors Jesus welcomed were lost by their own sin, so they did not deserve such incredible mercy.

During the life of Cyprian, many Christians were persecuted and martyred for their faith, but too many gave in to the societal pressures of Rome. When the emperor Decian decided to persecute the Christians, they willingly sacrificed to the Roman gods or renounced their faith in writing. In the end, many realized their mistake and repented. They sought reconciliation.

Some of the church leaders were unwilling to grant them forgiveness despite their repentance. Those leaders believed the guilty were apostate and did not deserve mercy. Cyprian disagreed and fought to offer forgiveness to those who had fallen. Cyprian recognized the need for compassion and argued for reinstatement in the Church under certain conditions. The penance was hard until there was a new threat of persecution. Cyprian called a council who offered forgiveness to those who had lapsed so that they could receive Communion for strength against the trial. In the end, many Christians who had survived the persecution of Decian were martyred under later emperors.

History repeats itself. We don’t always recognize the similarities because the issues are different, yet I cannot help but notice parallels with our modern age. We live in a time of relative peace, without threat of martyrdom to keep our zeal and passion for Christ. The line between heresy and orthodoxy has become so hazy that most Christians can’t recognize the difference. In all too many ways the Church has willingly followed the ways of the world rather than standing up for Christ. For many, the easiest way to get through the difficulty of persecution is to just give in to the world around them. In Cyprian’s time they willingly sacrificed to the idols to save their lives to avoid martyrdom.

Sadly, most Christians aren’t willing to stand up for Christ in their homes, workplaces, or even in their churches today. I have heard it said that the Church age is over, that we are living in post-Christian times. I am not sure what that means. While churches are shrinking, we are reminded that God has promised that there will always be a remnant until the day Jesus comes again. The Church may not be powerful and strong as it was in previous generations, but those moments eventually led to apostasy and heresy, and then it seems like the Church might die. Through it all, the Church has survived, not by her own will but by the promises of God. We are not alone. It has happened before, and God was faithful. We can rest in the knowledge that God will be faithful forever.

We may know people who have strayed from the faith by giving in to the world. But God’s grace is not limited. The day will come when those who have taken the easy path will find that they can no longer cross the line set by the world. They will see their foolishness. And then they will repent and seek forgiveness. God forgives, are we ready to do so, too? Cyprian understood that we have been called to the ministry of reconciliation, and he stands as an example for us to do the same, embracing those who repent with God’s grace so that they can face the difficulties of their time.


September 19, 2022

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you tells them, ‘Go in peace. Be warmed and filled;’ yet you didn’t give them the things the body needs, what good is it? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. Yes, a man will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But do you want to know, vain man, that faith apart from works is dead? Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith worked with his works, and by works faith was perfected. So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God. You see then that by works, a man is justified, and not only by faith. In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also justified by works, in that she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead.” James 2:14-26, WEB

There was a story that made the rounds a few years ago about a young man who was serving customers at a fast-food place. The customer at the counter was a regular, a blind man that the worker recognized. During the encounter, the man struggled with his wallet and accidentally dropped a twenty-dollar bill. The young man saw it fall to the floor. The woman behind the blind man also saw it, picked it up, and then put it in her own wallet. The blind man walked away without even realizing it. The young man at the counter was shocked that anyone would be so cruel.

When the woman approached the counter, the young man refused to serve her. “Ma’am, please give the man his twenty-dollar bill.” She argued with him, claiming it was hers. He would not take her order and asked her to leave. She demanded to speak to the manager, but he was the manager on duty. She angrily left without doing the right thing.

The young man was brave, bold, and kind to stand up for the blind man with such fervency. He was such an example for the other customers who were waiting, but the story didn’t end there. After he helped the others, apologizing for the disruption, the young man left the counter, reached for his own wallet and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill which he gave to the blind man. He told the man, “You dropped this.” He knew it was the right thing to do. He didn’t let the world change him; he did something that would change the world. He didn’t even accuse or blame the woman who stole the twenty-dollar bill; he simply made things right for the blind man.

It has been said that Martin Luther did not appreciate the book of James because it seems to be centered in works righteousness, but this is not true. Martin Luther did doubt the authenticity of the book, but so did many others in the Church at the time. Detractors often focus on his negative comments, but they ignore the rest of what he said, that James is a good book because, “it sets up no doctrine of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God.” Luther continued to wonder about the book, finding contradiction between Paul and James on faith and works, but he never considered removing the book from the canon. As a matter of fact, he translated and published the German version of the whole bible, including those books about which he had doubts.

Though I am not smarter than Martin Luther or any of the Christian theologians throughout time and place, I think the story of this young man at Dairy Queen is exactly an example of what James was talking about. We don’t do good works to earn our place in heaven. Christ won that for us already. We do good works because we are already in God’s kingdom, and we are given the courage, boldness, and heart to do what is right. We love because God first loved us. We do good works because God has been extraordinarily good to us. We share God’s grace with others because He first did so for us.

James says, “Faith without works is dead.” To me, this means that if we aren’t living a life of doing the right thing, of sharing God’s grace and loving our neighbors, then our faith is meaningless and even “dead.” Living faith manifests in real action in the world, reconciling people and making things right.


September 20, 2022

“When he had said these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves. Paul stayed two whole years in his own rented house and received all who were coming to him, preaching God’s Kingdom, and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, without hindrance.” Acts 28:29-31, WEB

I recently finished the ninth novel in a series that I have been enjoying for several years. About halfway through the book, I felt like the author was finally reaching the end of the story. The main character through these books is growing older, and he has always led a dangerous life. The storyline was hinting toward a conclusion of his life. At the same time, however, the author developed some of the other characters. About three quarters into the book, I realized that she was not going to able bring the old stories or the new ones to a suitable conclusion. I looked her up, and she has announced that the tenth book is on its way. Of course, I wanted that next book immediately. She ended the last book on a note that made me want the next one. Now I must wait. I’m sure she probably has plans for many more books in this series, and I will have to wait anxiously for each new book to be released.

It is an artistic technique to end a story with a cliff hanger. We have seen it in television shows. Cliff hangers leave us anxiously awaiting the return of our favorite shows and the commercials build up our excitement. One of the most memorable cliff hangers was the 1980 season finale of the television show “Dallas.” The main villain was shot and we spent the summer of 1980 contemplating and arguing about who did it. “Who shot J.R.?” was the ongoing topic until November 21st when they finally revealed the killer. Cliff hangers keep the story alive and draw us into the mystery.

I’ve often wondered about this end to the book of Acts. Why didn’t Luke tell us what happened next? Why don’t we hear about Paul’s trial and about what happened to him after he left Rome? We know by Paul’s letters that he was set free after the two years and that he continued to travel and preach the Gospel, but some of this life has been left as a mystery for us. I’m reading about Paul right now, and it seems that every writer, and there are many, has a different theory of Paul’s life after the end of the book of Acts. We are left with a cliff hanger and I’m not sure we’ll get our answers in this lifetime.

Luke’s book ends on a high note. Even though he was experiencing a difficult time, Paul continued to do what he was called to do: preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He survived the ordeal and went out to continue the work. Yet, even if he had perished in Rome, the story of Christ’s kingdom did not end with Paul. The cliff hanger leads us to want to know what happened next, to read other stories about the early church. We see these in not only the letters found in the New Testament, but also in the witnesses of the early church fathers. The story is not yet complete because there is always a new generation to hear the Gospel, believe, and go out to continue the work Jesus began through Paul and the apostles two thousand years ago. If the Bible held every story of every Christian witness, we could not house the book on the earth.

Have you ever tried to write your story? Journaling has become a popular way to consider our faith and our Christian journey. Some people have had the opportunity to share their testimony with others. When I began this devotion and my website twenty+ years ago, I wrote a page with my story. I haven’t updated it since we left England. My story has changed dramatically. We were in the military, in a foreign country. Our children were very young. Twenty+ years later, my children are grown, and my husband is retired and is working a much different job. We’ve lived in several homes in a couple states, and we have settled in Texas. I’ve worked a few jobs, I’ve developed my art, I’ve made new friends, and become a Bible teacher. The devotion has changed as I have grown as a writer and in my knowledge of the scriptures. Yet, even if I tried to complete it today, it would be outdated tomorrow because God's grace changes our lives every day as we grow in faith and move closer to the day we will receive every promise of God. Luke left us with a cliff hanger about Paul’s life, but we know that Paul’s story was just one part of God’s eternal story which will never end.


September 21, 2022

Lectionary Scriptures for September 25, 2016, Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Amos 6:1-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Luke 16:19-31

“His spirit departs, and he returns to the earth. In that very day, his thoughts perish.” Psalm 146, WEB

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

Things were not great in the Northern Kingdom, referred to in Amos as “the House of Joseph.” Joseph’s son Ephraim was the forefather of those who settled in the Northern Kingdom which was so close to Assyria that the Assyrians were able to assimilate themselves into the lives of the Israelites. The Assyrians were strong and offered protection. The people intermarried, and the foreign gods became part of the daily living of Israel. They were politically secure, and they were spiritually arrogant. They did not see the destruction that was happening to Israel from within their hearts. Have you ever noticed how things are different and yet the same?

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

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

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

It might make sense to us to do whatever seems right by trusting in the power we see while ignoring the true power that would save, but we learn that power isn’t always what we think it is.

Anne Hathaway played a character named Andy Sachs in the movie “The Devil Wears Prada.” Her character was a journalist who was desperately seeking a job in New York. She was an excellent writer with no experience, so she was rejected by the newspapers. She finally settled for a job as the second assistant to the editor at “Runway” a fashion magazine. She did not know anything about fashion, and she did not care. She thought it was a frivolous waste of time. However, the job was much sought after, the “job a million girls would die for,” and she knew that if she could survive a year, then she could get any job she wanted in the city. She was tried and tested repeatedly.

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

Later in the movie, Miranda did something that really hurt Andy’s friend, pushing him aside for the sake of her own career. As the boss and Andy discussed this situation, Andy said, “I would never do that to my friend.” Miranda said, “Oh, but you did... to Emily.” Andy thought the situations were different, but she realized that she had given up her integrity to get ahead. She had destroyed a relationship for the sake of her career. She put herself first so that she could get where she wanted to go.

Sometimes we think it is necessary to conform to the ways of the world so that we will get ahead or get that job we want or to succeed in this life. We see how those who humbly trust God never seem to win. They get stepped on and pushed aside. So, we conform to the expectations of the world in which we live to get ahead. The humble are seen as weak failures, cursed and rejected. However, the one who is faithful to God is not willing to conform. He or she is the one that puts faith ahead of success; they are unwilling to lie, cheat or steal to prove they are the best.

In the end, Andy realized that she had made a big mistake. She realized that she was wrong to put herself ahead of her friend for the sake of a job. She walked away from “Runway” without a second thought, returning to where she began for the sake of her integrity. She apologized to those whom she had hurt and restored those broken relationships. She even earned the respect of Miranda in the end, for making the choice to pursue what was right rather than what might have seemed best. Miranda even gave her the lift she needed to get that job she really wanted.

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

The people of the Northern Kingdom arrogantly thought they deserved God’s blessing because they did the right things, but their hearts were not humble before God. That was the problem with the rich man in today’s Gospel lesson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps, like the rich man in today’s Gospel story, we just stop seeing. I wonder how many times God places before us a need that we fail to notice; instead of giving bread from our table, we just step over them. We ignore a lot of needs in our world for one reason or another. Today’s Gospel lesson makes us uncomfortable because we have seen the needs of those around us but we all too often make excuses to ignore them. The rich man knew Lazarus by name; it is likely he passed Lazarus many times as he entered and exited through the gates to his house. I have also passed, too many times, the man begging on a downtown street corner.

Timothy was a young man who came from a faithful and faith-filled family. He was the son of Jewish mother and Greek father. Timothy, his mother, and grandmother may have become followers of Jesus during one of Paul’s visits. Timothy became like a son to Paul and was instrumental in Paul’s ministry, often going on important missions to encourage and strengthen the churches Paul established. Today’s epistle lesson comes from a letter Paul sent to Timothy in Ephesus where he was working to strengthen the church against false teaching. It is a letter that shows us that the Gospel leads to practical, visible changes in believer’s lives. False teachers were leading people astray, but Paul shows us what it means to follow Jesus. Faith begets holiness in the lives of believers.

Today’s passage focuses on those who are in leadership. The descriptions of both the pastors and deacons seem almost too hard; after all, we are reminded that they are only human, too. These characteristics, however, are expected of those who are leading God’s church because if they don’t live up the expectations of God’s Word, how will those who live under their care know how to live?

The psalmist calls us to live in the hope of God’s promises. When we praise God, we see the world through His point of view. We see what justice and mercy look like. We see what it means to be righteous. We see how He bridges the gaps between people and reconciles them to Himself. We see the Lazarus who is on our doorstep and realize that our selfishness is affecting others in a negative way. We hear His voice as He calls us to share what we have with those we see through God's eyes. We might have doubts about whether we are being good stewards of our resources, but we can trust that God will make all things right. If the rich man had lived by faith, trusting God by seeing Lazarus and blessing him with what he needed, he would not have been on the wrong side of the gap.

We might not be wealthy or powerful, but we are still to look at these scriptures through the lens of our own lives. How are we failing to see those outside our own palaces that need a few crumbs of what we have to offer? We may not have much, but there's always something, and it doesn't have to be material. Do we have a gift or talent, the time or the physical energy to do something for another? Our neighbor may not ask for help, but when we see the need, it is up to us to step forward and share what we must meet that need. It doesn't matter if we are rich or poor. It doesn't matter if we have power or not. What we, as Christians, are reminded in these scriptures is that God has called us to be His hands in a world full of people who need something we must give.

Our problem is not that we are too rich or even that we don’t share our wealth. I imagine every one of us can list the things we have done recently for someone: the money we have given to charities, the time we have given to the church and other ministries, the kindnesses we have done for our neighbors. Perhaps we are right when we claim that we can’t do it all. However, we are called to a life of compassion and mercy, a life in which we look for the one whom God has dropped on our doorstep with whom we can share our life and resources. Lazarus may just have been sent to the rich man in life to bridge the gap between them.

Our wealth will fade. It will not take us into heaven or follow us into hell. When we die, everything we have done on earth will be lost. Everything will be lost but faith. What is most interesting is that faith is the greatest treasure that we have, and yet we all too often take it for granted. And while these lessons are about the proper use of our wealth in this world, we have a wealth beyond our imagination that we tend to hoard for ourselves.

God calls us to gap the divide between heaven and hell by sharing the Gospel of Jesus. He is the bridge. We have been given bread that will satisfy our greatest hungers, but are we willing to share even a few crumbs with our neighbors? When was the last time you shared the Gospel of Christ with someone who crossed your path in both word and deed? The world is filled with people who are hungering Jesus, starving and they don’t even know it. So, let’s be humble people, seeing the world through God’s eyes. Let’s work with Him to bridge the gaps that divide us now and forever. Let’s see the Lazarus God has dropped on our doorstep, feed him with bread and the Bread of Life so that we’ll dwell forever together in the bosom of God our Father.

While God is concerned about our salvation and the destination of our souls after death, He is also concerned with the life we are living today. Christian faith is not just about whether we’ll end up in the bosom of our father Abraham. It is about reconciling the world, bridging those gaps that seem too hard to cross. In this life, however, the gaps are not impossible. The rich man and Lazarus shared the same space, but they were worlds apart. A simple meal and a clean robe would have bridged the gap not only in this world, but in the one to come.

Are we too at ease in our world today, comfortable and prosperous that we don’t notice those who need our help? Are we facing gaps in our own eternity because we have failed to share even the crumbs from our tables? As Amos warned, it isn’t enough that we are in church on a Sunday morning going through the motion of worship. God sees our hearts and is looking for those who will live in humble submission to God, acting with justice and mercy in the world. Our time on earth will come to an end; are we ready?

Our works will never earn us a place in eternity, but our faith is meant to lead us toward being a blessing to others, reconciling people, and sharing God’s grace. This means turning away from the things that distract us; it means keeping our priorities right. It means keeping God in focus and remembering that He is the Lord of heaven and earth. It means listening to God and responding to the opportunities He drops on our doorsteps. It means being the best we can be. If only the rich man had shared some bread and some drink with the man named Lazarus who was dropped at the gate of his home, perhaps there would have been no chasm between them in eternal life.


September 22, 2022

“If your brother sins against you, go, show him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained back your brother. But if he doesn’t listen, take one or two more with you, that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the assembly. If he refuses to hear the assembly also, let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector. Most certainly I tell you, whatever things you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever things you release on earth will have been released in heaven. Again, assuredly I tell you, that if two of you will agree on earth concerning anything that they will ask, it will be done for them by my Father who is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the middle of them.” Matthew 18:15-20, WEB

Yesterday was the festival day for St. Matthew.

We do not know much about Matthew before he was called to follow Jesus, but the likelihood is that he wasn’t a good and righteous guy.

Matthew was an unusual character in the gathering of disciples. Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen. Though we do not know the vocations of most of the disciples before they met Jesus, three others may have been fishermen, having grown up near Peter and possibly acquaintances. Some were probably craftsmen. Simon was a religious zealot and Judas was probably a revolutionary. These eleven were most likely hardworking men, enemies to the Romans and desirous of national freedom and deliverance from the oppression under which they lived.

Matthew was different. According to the scriptures, Matthew was a tax collector. As a tax collector, Matthew was a local man who was a representative of the Roman government. He paid for the privilege, having bid for the job against other publicans. In bidding, Matthew would have said he could raise a certain amount of taxes and when he won the bid would have paid it out of his own pocket. It was then his job to recoup his investment. He would pocket any amount he received over the amount he paid to Rome. This made the job of tax collector ripe for abuse. Tax collectors needed to earn a living but so often took advantage of their power by cheating the people by charging them more than their due. We don’t know if Matthew was a crooked tax collector, but he was still taking the hard-earned money of his own people to give to their oppressors.

Jesus called a hodge-podge of men as His disciples, but Matthew is perhaps one of the most unusual choices. Tax collectors were outcasts, sinners in the eyes of the Jews. The fishermen among them were called to follow Jesus out of a life of hard work. They were probably very fit, tanned from hours in the sunlight, rough in action and language. Matthew had a desk job. He was probably fat from lack of exercise and rich foods. Soft and pale from little time outside, Matthew was not the image of what we might have expected from the disciples. He was an enemy, or at the very least in cahoots with the enemy. Despite his Jewish heritage and his willingness to leave everything at Jesus’ word, he was probably not openly welcomed into this new community. Can you imagine Judas, who greedily held the corporate purse, embracing Matthew, who had may have encountered each of the disciples at some point in his career? Who among the Jews would even listen to him?

God called Matthew to speak to the very people who would not listen: his own. The intent of his work was to show his people the fulfillment of God’s promises as found in the person of Jesus Christ. He quoted the Old Testament scriptures more than any other New Testament writer. His genealogy of Jesus Christ shows how Jesus descended from Abraham, an important fact for the Jewish readers. He used Jewish terminology and did not explain Jewish customs, assuming the readers would know and understand what he was talking about. Even so, Matthew did not limit the Gospel message to the Jews, showing that Jesus came for the world by telling the story of the wise men from the East. He was determined to prove that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.

Matthew understood what it meant to be saved by God’s grace. He was the least likely disciple and the one who gave up the most. He wouldn’t have done it on his own accord. He was changed by the One who loved him, had mercy on him, and called him into this new life of faith. I can almost imagine Matthew sitting on the floor next to Mary soaking in the words of Christ and praying, “Teach me, O God.” He wanted to know what it meant to be a disciple and he wanted to share the Gospel with his people.

In today’s passage from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us how to deal with the errors of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Matthew wrote that if they are unrepentant, we should treat them as sinners or tax collectors? But think about this: how would Matthew, the tax collector, wish to be treated? Would he want to be treated without grace, rejected as an enemy? Or was he thinking about how Jesus treated him: with mercy, welcoming him into the community, and even calling him into ministry? We learn about forgiveness and acceptance from Matthew. He teaches us not to turn them away, but to start over by speaking the Gospel so that they will hear and believe and be transformed newly by God’s grace.

We remember Matthew because he was one of the disciples and the writer of the first Gospel. He was a man who humbled himself before God and lived his new life for the sake of his people. He risked much, lost everything, and yet gained the kingdom of heaven by faith. Through his story we see the grace of God so clearly; we see that salvation is given to all who hear His word and believe. Through his Gospel, we see how much he loved his people and how he longed for them to believe that Jesus truly was the One for whom they had waited so long. Through his story we see that it is worthwhile to speak when God tells us to speak, even when we do not think anyone is listening, for God can touch even the most untouchable people.


September 23, 2022

“Who then is Apollos, and who is Paul, but servants through whom you believed, and each as the Lord gave to him? I planted. Apollos watered. But God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are the same, but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s farming, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another builds on it. But let each man be careful how he builds on it. For no one can lay any other foundation than that which has been laid, which is Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 3:5-11, WEB

William Carey got off to a bad start in life. He was born in the mid-eighteenth-century England, a sick child in a poor family with little education. He was a troublemaker as a youth, hanging out with the wrong crowd. Eventually he was made an apprentice to a shoemaker. John Warr was one of his coworkers and was a faithful Christian who witnessed to him daily, but William was uninterested. John convinced him to go to a church service for a day of prayer instituted by King George III to ask for God’s help with the war of rebellion in the New World. William agreed to go.

The preacher gave a rousing sermon urging all to give their lives to Christ. The message spoke into William’s heart, and he was converted to the Christian faith. He was baptized and became active in a local Baptist church. He eventually began preaching and pasturing in nearby Baptist churches. He married, had a daughter and worked as a cobbler for several years, but became increasingly interested in world travel and missionary work.

Unfortunately, William lived in an age when most Christians saw no need for missionary work. He continually brought up the subject at religious meetings, but the other pastors we not interested. The pastor that baptized William even said, “When God pleases to convert the heathen, he’ll do it without consulting you or me.” William became dismayed but wrote a book and continued to teach the importance of Gospel evangelism. Eventually he was given the opportunity to present his ideas and he convinced the meeting to support missionary work.

On October 2, 1792, the first collection of pledges for organized, home-supported Protestant missions was collected. William made plans, though he ran into difficulties. He eventually made it to India and accomplished some amazing things. He translated the Bible into six languages, wrote dictionaries and grammar books in five, founded many schools in rural India and founded a college to train ministers, which is still in operation. He introduced the idea of a savings bank and published the first Indian newspaper. His work made such a difference in the country that the ancient practice of burning widows was stopped.

Mary Drewery, who wrote a biography about William Carey, said, “The number of actual conversions attributed to him is pathetically small; the number indirectly attributable to him must be legion.” William’s work began an era of missionary work in the church, as many Christians went to foreign lands to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of those missionaries had incredible impact in their mission fields, bringing hope to the people in both spiritual and temporal ways. God changed the world as William built a wide-ranging ministry on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that Jesus is not the founder of a church but is the foundation of the Church. We are to build all we do on Him. Our faith is a most precious gift. It is given by God our Father for the sake of our Lord Jesus. We cannot by our own power or strength believe in Him, but He gives us all we need so that we can build on that foundation the life of sharing the Gospel so that others might believe. We will never know the impact of the ministry we do in this world; however, we are all called to be in partnership with God to share the kingdom. Each one of us has a task to do: one will plant, and one will water, while God makes it grow. All the while, the Gospel will change the world in which we live as we join together to build on the foundation that is Jesus Christ.


September 26, 2022

“Jesus summoned them, and said to them, ‘You know that they who are recognized as rulers over the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you, but whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant. Whoever of you wants to become first among you, shall be bondservant of all. For the Son of Man also came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” Mark 10:42-45, WEB

We attended the ordination service of several men and women who became deacons in the Church of England at the cathedral in Bury St. Edmunds when we lived in England. It was a beautiful service, emphasizing the servanthood of those taking their vows before God. The scriptures all spoke of humility and submission, such as Isaiah’s answer to God, “Here I am, send me!” The Epistle of the day continued that theme with a writing from Paul, speaking of true spiritual worship which is offering your whole self into service according to God’s will. Finally, we heard the story of James and John asking Jesus for places of honor in His Kingdom (Mark 10:35-41).

The bishop stood before the congregation and told the deacons, “That won’t be you.” He was referring to the places of honor sought by James and John. He reminded them that they have not vowed to take a journey toward fame or prosperity, but rather one of service. He compared them to donkeys. This statement, of course, got a huge laugh from the congregation. Our image of the donkey is usually one of stubbornness with the donkey refusing to move, being pulled by the master. A donkey does not react that way unless he is frightened, hurt, or tired, which means the master has abused the donkey in some way. The truth of the matter hit home as the bishop described the characteristics of a well-cared for donkey. They are loyal, strong, carry heavy burdens, obedient to their master, patient, loving, and happy with their lot in life. Then the bishop reminded us of the donkey that carried Christ into Jerusalem. The new deacons were called to do the same.

The service was directed at the ordinands, to begin their walk on the right foot, however each moment was meant for every Christian. The deacons were called to a special office and God equipped them to carry out their duties. But each Christian has been called to be like a donkey, carrying Christ to the people in their little corner of the world. We have been equipped with gifts to carry out the task, and God will provide opportunity to serve Him. We just must answer like Isaiah and say, “Here I am, send me!” When we do, we must lean on God’s grace and strength every moment, for it is never us but rather Christ in us that accomplishes the task. When we hold on to our own abilities and desires, we become like the stubborn donkey that refuses to move. God has not treated us poorly to cause us to act stubborn. We have chosen another master, ourselves.

The psalmist wrote, “Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel.” (Psalm 69:6, WEB) This prayer is a good place to start as we take our own personal journey carrying the Lord. Whether you have been called into ordained ministry or are to serve God in other ways; whether you have been in office for decades or are just beginning; pray that you will remain humble and obedient before God so that He will be glorified.


September 27, 2022

“He said, ‘Certainly I will be with you. This will be the token to you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.’” Exodus 3:12, WEB

We recently rented a house at the shore for a mini vacation with our kids. There are many different options, and we spent a couple days searching the listings for just the right house. The one we chose was a little more expensive than we had planned, but it was in a good location and seemed to meet all our needs. I clicked the button to reserve the house and the invoice was significantly higher than I expected. It turned out that the per night cost did not include the taxes or an extra cleaning fee. It was still affordable and the best option, so we agreed. My credit card was billed, and we were ready to go.

Then I got another message that I had to pay a deposit. The extra fee would be returned to us after the house was inspected; it was meant to cover any damage that might occur while we were in residence. We left the house in better condition than we received it, so the deposit was quickly refunded. It was a token to guarantee that we would be careful in our host’s home. Most renters pay a similar deposit, a token of our promise to live by the contract we sign between the landlord and tenant. That token is paid before hand and then returned if all is well in the end.

I was reading the story of the Exodus last night, and today’s verse stood out to me. Moses was called to go back to Egypt, to demand that Pharaoh let the Israelites go to worship the Lord. Moses was curious about the burning bush and listened to God, but he was not willing to be any sort of deliverer. He had all sorts of excuses. “I can’t talk.” “Pharaoh won’t listen to me.” Moses argued so much that God got exasperated with him, finally conceding that Moses’ brother Aaron would be the mouthpiece, but Moses had to be the front man. In the verse just before God’s words to Moses, Moses asked, “Who am I to do this thing?”

God answered with a promise that He would be with Moses. Then He offered a token to satisfy Moses’ concerns. That token, however, was nothing like the deposits we pay to dwell in someone’s home either temporarily or longer. Moses would not see the fulfillment of the token until after it all came to fruition. Moses had to trust that God would be faithful, that He would walk alongside Moses and the Israelites through the Exodus.

It wasn’t an easy journey. Pharaoh listened to Moses but did not believe. His heart was hardened, and Moses’ words made things worse for God’s people. It was all part of God’s plan, but it is hard to see the promises being fulfilled when you must make bricks without straw. It is hard to believe that God is at work when the army of Pharaoh is rushing at a million people on foot with speedy chariots and weapons of steal. Despite the impossible nature of God’s expectations of Moses and Moses’ denial that he could accomplish any of it, Moses went to Egypt and faced Pharaoh. In the end, God’s people arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai to begin the life that had been promised to their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

We can look to Moses as an example. We do not always know where God is taking us, and we do not always understand the path on which He leads, but we can trust that God will certainly be with us. The token given to us is that Jesus Christ has set a place in eternity for all who believe and obey. We have nothing to hold, there is no guarantee that we can grasp if we do not see the fulfillment of the contract. Yet, we are called to believe and go forth in faith to do whatever impossible task God has asked of us. We probably have a million excuses like Moses, but when we believe and do we will be blessed with seeing God’s glory in the end.


September 28, 2022

Lectionary Scriptures for October 2, 2022, Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; Psalm 62; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:1-10

“Even so you also, when you have done all the things that are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants. We have done our duty.’” Luke 17:10, WEB

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

Sound familiar? How many of us have cried out with the same sense of wonder at the delay of God’s justice? We are frustrated by the suffering we see in the world, uncertain how God could seemingly have no concern for His people. Habakkuk knew that the people had sinned against God, but he also knew that God could make them turn back. He asked, “How long?” He wanted to know how long it would be until God brought His people to repentance. Habakkuk had good reason to go to God in desperation over the people of Judah. They were truly unfaithful, declining in morals and spirituality rapidly. They were violent and disobedient. They needed God’s help to be the nation God called them to be.

Habakkuk was probably a contemporary of Josiah the child king who saw the same degradation of God’s people. Josiah’s story is found in 2 Kings 22. “He [Josiah] did that which was right in Yahweh’s eyes, and walked in all the way of David his father, and didn’t turn away to the right hand or to the left.” Josiah rebuilt the Temple and restored the right worship of God. During the restoration, the High Priest Hilkiah found the Book of the Law and they realized as they read it just how far God’s people had fallen. Josiah tore his clothes and sent men to inquire of God. He knew that the wickedness of Judah would bring God’s wrath. For his faithfulness, Josiah died before Judah fell so that he would not suffer the consequences of their sin.

Habakkuk is not mentioned in that story, but he may have been praying at that time. Habakkuk lamented over the wickedness of God’s people. “Why don’t you do something?” God answered, “I’m already working on this problem.” The solution, however, was not a very pleasant one; as a matter of fact, it was shocking. God was preparing the Babylonians to discipline the people of Israel. Habakkuk was upset because he could not understand how God could use such an ungodly nation to do such an important work.

Habakkuk suffered a great burden: he saw the future of His people, a future that would include pain, exile, and more injustice. This is not pleasant for anyone to hear, but prophets are often burdened with visions of things they would rather not see. God’s answer was not what Habakkuk wanted to hear. It was shocking and disturbing that God would use wickedness against His own people, but God assured him that this is just the beginning of the story. God’s warnings of wrath are always accompanied by promises of mercy. Sometimes we miss that part; we don’t hear the whole story because we don’t take the time to hear the voice of our King.

Chicken Little was walking in the woods one day when an acorn fell on her head. She thought the sky was falling and hurried toward the palace to tell the king. Along the way, Chicken Little met her friend Henny Penny. “Oh don’t go there,” she said. “The sky is falling. Come with me to tell the king.” Chicken Little and Henny Penny told Cocky Locky, Goosey Loosey and Turkey Lurkey not to go into the woods because the sky is falling. They all headed toward the palace together to tell the king.

We know that the sky was not really falling on Chicken Little and her friends, but she was so certain she was right that she convinced her friends to believe her story. Unfortunately, along the way to the palace, Chicken Little and her friends ran into Foxy Loxy who knew that the sky was not falling. He convinced them that he knew a shortcut to the king’s palace, but he led them to his den. He was planning to gobble them all up. Fortunately, the king appeared with a hunting party tracking Foxy Loxy. He saved the group of friends, listened to Chicken Little’s story, and showed her how the acorns fall from the tree in the woods. Then he gave her an umbrella which she carries everywhere with her. Now when the acorns fall, they don’t bother her at all. When we listen to God and trust His voice, we know there is more to the story.

The second letter of Paul to his friend Timothy was written during a time when there was great persecution in the Church, most likely under the emperor Nero. Paul had been arrested again, but this time was not like it was early in his ministry. Instead of living in a borrowed place under house arrest, Paul was kept in a damp, dark dungeon. He was near the end of his life, and he knew it. He was concerned for his friend Timothy and for the Church. Heresy grows more quickly under persecution as people find justification and excuse for new ideas to spare believers of risk. Heresy often tries to meld together ideas from other religions to make the Christian religion more acceptable to non-believers.

In the letter, Paul talks about how Timothy learned about faith from his mother and grandmother. They brought him up in a Christian home, but we all know that we go through periods of struggle in our youth and early adulthood when it is hard to hold to the ideas of our elders. This is especially true in times of persecution. The life of faith can dwindle under a burden of fear and upheaval. We fall for heresies that sound good to our ears but that do not stand up to God’s word when we are vulnerable. This is why Paul encouraged Timothy and reminded him of the faith which he was given, a faith built on Christ.

Following other teachings might sound good; they might be less risky and seem better than what we learned from our forefathers. Those teachings might sound more up to date and relevant to our time. Foxy Loxy’s shortcut was not the right way to go, it was the road to destruction. So, too, heresy leads us away from God’s grace, away from the treasure which we have been given. There is no need to fear the persecution that might come because God’s grace promises that despite our troubles, He is with us and will be true to His Word.

Henry Melchior Muhlenberg was born in Germany in 1711. He was a Lutheran pastor by the time he reached thirty years old. It was then that he was called to become the pastor of three struggling German Lutheran congregations in the New World. German immigrants were arriving in America, and they sought the inspiration and consolation of ministry in their own church heritage. Unfortunately, there were no ordained ministers to preach the word and administer the sacraments. The Lutherans tried to establish congregations around the colonies, but they had difficulty competing against the other congregations that had solid leadership. Without trained ministers, the people were following strange ideologies and even heresies.

Henry arrived in America in 1742 to lead his three congregations and immediately set to work. The work was difficult because he found the congregations were unorganized and confused. The same was true of other German Lutheran congregations in the colonies. Henry worked with his congregations, established a solid constitutional model, and reached out to other Lutherans. His impact reached as far south as Georgia and as far north as the Hudson. He asked for more pastors to be sent and he organized the first Lutheran Synod in America. He reached beyond his own churches, communicating with other Lutherans and even with other religious bodies. He spoke several languages, so was often invited to preach and speak to fellow Christians.

He impacted the world in which he lived and the church he loved but his legacy went beyond his own lifetime. Most of his eleven children made names for themselves in the Church, politics, the military, and education. He died on October 7, 1787, a date set aside for the remembrance of his life and ministry. It was not an easy life or ministry. He traveled extensively to preach and to assist his colleagues with disputes. He fought heresy and stubbornness, ignorance and persecution. He stayed neutral during the American Revolution, which did not sit well with either side of the battle.

Henry Melchior Muhlenberg is known as the father of American Lutheranism because he established the organization that brought together the German Lutherans who were struggling to survive in the New World. Henry was a missionary and church planter. By the time he died he had helped establish dozens of congregations and helped bring many trained pastors to the New World to lead them. He also helped train colonists to be strong and informed leaders in their congregations and communities. Henry never lost touch with his home and the people who had trained him in Germany. They supported his career and helped him with funds and with people. He fought the good fight and God made great things happen through him in the New World.

Nearly a hundred and seventy years later, on October 4, 1957, the Russians shot a reconfigured missile into space to put into orbit the first human produced “moon” around the earth. Sputnik set off a race for space dominance that brought about some amazing technology. Most of our favorite modern conveniences are in some way credited to the space program. Scientists developed the technology necessary for space travel that was eventually adapted for common use: the computer, the cell phone, and the microwave are just a few examples. However, it is not just electronics that have benefited. Fabric, food, and even leisure products like toys and sports equipment have seen amazing development because of the gadgets that came out of the race for space.

There was a story a few years ago in which the scientist in charge of the program revealed that the satellite that we thought was way beyond our work was little more than a toy. Sputnik had only few bells and whistles. They didn’t send it to establish a working satellite in orbit, but to be the first to make it happen. Sputnik was developed in less than three months and was sent into space two days early to ensure that the Russians won the space race.

Sputnik may not have been a highly technical satellite, but it spurred scientific discovery and development that has led to the creation of the International Space Station, the Space Shuttle, and rockets that are accomplishing amazing things sixty-five years later. Out of that development came so many wonderful things that many of us can’t imagine living without. It all came out of a 184-pound ball of metal that was shot into space in a refurbished missile. It is shocking to realize how little value it really had, but that humble satellite helped bring about incredible change.

In today’s Gospel story, the disciples asked for greater faith. They were shocked and disheartened by Jesus’ comments that precede the request. He told them that they should forgive seventy times seven times. Forgiveness requires trust: we think we must trust that the person repenting will not harm us again. It is hard enough to forgive someone once or twice, but Jesus expected His disciples to keep on forgiving, not just a few times but as many as it takes. How can we do that if we do not trust them?

The disciples responded with the only words that they could speak: they asked Jesus to increase their faith. They wanted Jesus to increase the faith they had in people, but Jesus reminds us that people will never be trustworthy. All it really takes to move mountains, or forgive sin, is to have a little bit of faith in the only one who is always trustworthy: God.

Jesus reminded the disciples of the relationship between God and His people. We are no better than slaves; we have done only as much as is expected of us. We aren’t of more value because we do good things. We aren’t better because we can forgive someone four hundred and ninety times. We aren’t more righteous. We aren’t better Christians. We are only doing that which is expected of us, that which Jesus set as an example. God established in Jesus the forgiveness we are expected to give.

Jesus gave the Kingdom to the disciples who gave the kingdom to the early Christians who gave the kingdom to the subsequent generations. He is the source of all forgiveness. He is the foundation of all forgiveness. Everything we give comes from Him and He lived like a slave, doing that which He was sent to do, and we are called to do the same.

We can only follow the Master. Sharing the Kingdom and the forgiveness that comes from it does not make us more valuable. Like Sputnik, we are little more than that ball of metal. However, the forgiveness we share, like the forgiveness that has been shared with us, will bring great things to future generations, all thanks to the humble servanthood of Jesus Christ, who came first to bring God’s grace to the world.

In a sermon on today’s Gospel lesson, St. Augustine said, “We must believe, then, in order to pray; and we must ask God that the faith enabling us to pray may not fail. Faith gives rise to prayer, and this prayer obtains an increase of faith. Faith, I say, gives rise to prayer, and is in turn strengthened by prayer... Mark the apostles: they would never have left everything they possessed and spurned worldly ambition to follow the Lord unless their faith had been great; and yet that faith of theirs could not have been perfect, otherwise they would not have asked the Lord to increase it.”

Jesus said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you would tell this sycamore tree, ‘Be uprooted, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” What is the object of faith in this verse? Is it the sycamore tree? Is it the person having faith? No, the object of our faith is God. If we have faith in God the size of a mustard seed, we will see amazing things happen. With faith in God, we will trust that He knows the whole story, and then we can continue to forgive. Faith means giving God control. It means even giving God control over those things that have harmed us.

Talk about moving mountains! The point of this passage is not that you only need a little faith to do the miraculous. All too many are quick to assume that if we can’t make a mulberry tree leap into the ocean that we do not have enough faith. However, faith is not something that can be measured. Nothing we do is enough. We, like the disciples, can only say, “We are unworthy servants. We have done our duty.”

We may face persecution, heresy, and other problems that will take perseverance and trust. Our strength is not in our ability to make anything happen, but in God’s grace. As we take on the world in which we live, sharing God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness with all we won’t necessarily know where it is leading. However, God is faithful, and He knows the purpose for which we have been sent. It is to continue doing the work of Christ in this world, bringing restoration and peace with the Gospel, sharing faith and planting God’s love.

The psalm begins with a confession of faith: “My soul rests in God alone. My salvation is from him.” It may seem as if God is not answering our prayers, and we lament in what we see around us. “How long, O Lord?” we ask. Yet faith means trusting that God is already at work, answering our prayers even before we cry out to Him.

The Psalm ends, “Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done.” This sounds like great news until we begin to think about what we have done. Have we earned our place at the Master’s table? Have we done more than the work He has called us to do? Have we shared His Gospel message of forgiveness with the world? If we are honest with ourselves, the answer is “No.” We don’t deserve that place at the table. The Good News is this: we don’t have to earn it, Jesus has. He has not only made us a guest in His house, but He has made us brothers and sisters. We are no longer strangers or foreigners, but children of God.

Our passages this week have faithful men crying out to God, “How long, O Lord?” and “Increase our faith!” I wonder how many times Henry Melchior Muhlenberg doubted his ability to accomplish the work God had sent him to the New World to accomplish. We are reminded in this week’s lessons that we do not know the whole story. We cannot see what God has in store for us or for the world. We can only go forth in trust and hope knowing that God is faithful. When we cry out “How long?” or “Increase our faith” we do so from the humble position of being a slave to Christ.

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

The psalm begins with a confession of faith: “My soul rests in God alone. My salvation is from him.” It may seem as if God is not answering our prayers, and we lament in what we see around us. “How long, O Lord?” we ask. Yet faith means trusting that God is already at work, answering our prayers even before we cry out to Him.

The Psalm ends, “For you reward every man according to his work.” This sounds like great news until we begin to think about what we have done. Have we earned our place at the Master’s table? Have we done more than the work He has called us to do? Have we shared His Gospel message of forgiveness with the world? If we are honest with ourselves, the answer is “No.” We don’t deserve that place at the table. The Good News is this: we don’t have to earn it, Jesus has. He has not only made us a guest in His house, but He has made us brothers and sisters. We are no longer strangers or foreigners, but children of God.

Habakkuk needed encouragement. It didn’t come as he expected or hoped, but by the end of the conversation with God, he knew that God was at work among his people. In the end everything would be made right. The psalmist sought encouragement for God’s people suffering under the hands of their oppressors. Paul wrote Timothy to remind him to stay on course and do what he’d been taught to do. The disciples needed Jesus to increase their faith. God provides us all we need, if only we are willing to listen to what He has to say.

We may face persecution, heresy, and other problems that will take perseverance and trust. We may have to forgive over and over and over again. Our strength is in God’s grace, not in our abilities. We are little more than a worthless ball of metal like Sputnik, sent out to do not as we think, but to be a catalyst for something greater. As we take on the work of Jesus, sharing God’s love and mercy with all, we won’t always understand what God is doing. But He is faithful, and He knows the purpose for which we have been sent.

We are called to holy service, sharing the love and forgiveness of Christ with the world. The news we have may be rejected, but it is Good News. Most people don’t want to hear that they should forgive others. We would rather know that our enemies will suffer for their sin. We forget that we are sinners, too, in need of the love and mercy of God. But we are given God’s grace through Jesus Christ so that we will experience His forgiveness and boldly proclaim that God will make everything right, even when it seems impossible.


September 29, 2022

“Praise Yahweh, you angels of his, who are mighty in strength, who fulfill his word, obeying the voice of his word. Praise Yahweh, all you armies of his, you servants of his, who do his pleasure. Praise Yahweh, all you works of his, in all places of his dominion. Praise Yahweh, my soul!” Psalm 103:20-22, WEB

One of my favorite places to visit in England is the region of Cornwall. There is something special about the place, a feeling of antiquity with many ancient sites that speak of the people who have lived there since the beginning of time. Since Cornwall sits at the farthest corner of the island, there is a sense that you have reached the end of the world with even a village on the coast called Land’s End. As you stand on the cliffs looking over the ocean, you can understand why the people of that place might have felt a particular bond to the spiritual realm.

Cornwall is a relatively small place, with tiny one-track roads and hidden rock formations. On one trip we spent a day driving around, chasing after the more popular tourist sites. We visited a 1700-year-old Celtic Christian chapel, an older druidic fertility stone structure, tin mines that might have supplied Solomon’s Temple, and the remains of an ancient burial site. We saw five-thousand-year-old monoliths and quoits that still hold a sense of mystery. The Celtic crosses are hard to find because they are often found in the gardens or hedgerows of the residents rather than in a place that is easily accessible to tourists. I didn’t have the right resources to pinpoint their location, except for the modern ones that sit in the center of the quaint villages.

Cornwall is a hilly peninsula, and from nearly every peak visitors can see an island just off the southern coast. It is called St. Michael’s Mount. There is a causeway between England and the island that becomes visible during low tide, making the mount accessible by foot. At other times it is necessary to take a boat. Over the years the mount has been used as a port for tin trade, a monastery, a military outpost and a private home. It is a strategic and important property over which many have fought. There is a similar, although in many ways grander, island off the coast of France called Mont-Saint-Michel. The two islands had close connections until the fourteenth century, when war broke relations between the two nations.

As with everything in England, the written history comes with a sense of mystery and myth. There are several ancient legends connected with the island. It is said that the story of Jack and the Beanstalk had its origins in a story that comes from St. Michael’s Mount. A giant was known to live there, easily walking to the mainland to steal sheep for his lunch. The story describes a boy that went to the mount to fight the giant and tricked him into falling into a hole. There are legends about King Arthur as well as stories about the Celtic saints.

The name of the mount comes from a legend involving the Archangel known as Michael. Some fishermen claimed to see St. Michael standing high above the sea on a rocky ledge as if he were guarding it. The biblical stories involving Michael the Archangel show a mighty warrior angel fighting the devil. Many churches and religious institutions that were located on the top of a hill or mountain took the name St. Michael in honor of his feats in the heavenly realm.

Our modern understanding of angels is different from what is described by the biblical writers or ancient peoples. Walk into any gift shop and you’ll find figures of pretty little angels with fluffy wings and pure white garments. We think of angels as our helpers, beings that are charged with taking care of us. Some people teach that our dearly departed as people who have been transformed by God into guardians over our lives. We use this language to help people through their troubles and their grief, to give them hope that their loved ones are still with them in some way.

We are reminded on this day when we recall and celebrate the angels, including St. Michael the archangel, that they are unique beings created by God for a specific purpose. They were created to serve God as His messengers to mankind; they may be awesome, especially angels like the warrior-like Michael, but we are the crown of His creation, and they serve God by serving us. Though in this life we are a little lower than the angels, for we do not have access to the throne of Glory as they do, we will be the ones who dine at the table of grace at the great heavenly banquet that awaits us in eternity. For now, the angels move throughout the dominion of God, passing into our world only in obedience to God’s will. Their main purpose, as is ours, is to glorify God in all they do.

We thank God for their presence in our world and in heaven. England has many mysterious things, but so does all our world. There is much that we do not fully understand about God’s creation. Christians know there is another realm, but we are rarely aware of the spiritual world that exists beyond our conscious reality and many people even reject that it is real. As we learn more about all of God’s creation, we realize that we are just a small part of everything He has done. As we read scriptures, we wonder about God’s love and care for us as individuals. How is it that with beings like St. Michael and all the angels, that God has any concern for imperfect man and all our troubles? Yet, through Jesus Christ we are made sons and daughters of God and the day will come when we will stand in His glory and join the angels in their constant and joyous praise.


September 30, 2022

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do you gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree produces good fruit, but the corrupt tree produces evil fruit. A good tree can’t produce evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t grow good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’” Matthew 7:15-23, WEB

We are far more willing to believe in angels than Satan and his demons. After all, kind creatures with beautiful wings hanging out on fluffy white clouds are far more acceptable than a horned, long tailed dude in red tights hanging out with ugly, evil looking monsters. Once again, however, we have tried to describe these creatures with physical attributes based on our earthly knowledge, giving spiritual beings a visual identity that is not true. I think perhaps the modern image of Satan is his own work, making the character as ridiculous as possible so that intelligent men and women would reject the possibility of his existence because it is simply irrational to believe in such a thing.

The Bible tells us that Satan is real, that he is wandering throughout the earth trying to lead people away from God. He has copies of everything in God’s kingdom: a trinity, a church, prophets, ministers, and even a “gospel.” However, everything of his is false, a twist of the truth. He uses God’s holy Word to confuse his victims, in the hope that the listener will say, “There is some truth to that...” He tried that with Jesus in the wilderness during the temptation. He quoted scripture to tempt Jesus into making bread, calling on the angels for aid, and ruling over the whole world. Jesus knew that Satan was misusing the Word. He could make bread, but it was not God’s Will. He could have jumped from the top of the temple and the angels would have saved Him, but it was not the time or the way for the Christ to be glorified. He knew that He would rule the whole world, but this would happen only in submission to His Father, not the devil.

We are not Jesus, and our flesh is weak. We hear things taught that sound good, so we accept them. A teacher or preacher will quote scripture and so we think he or she is a servant of God. Yet too many churches today are abusing God’s word and teaching a false gospel. They are sharing a gospel of self, one in which the believer seeks not God’s Kingdom but what God can do to make their kingdoms better. Jesus is taught, but as one who will grant our every wish, not as Savior of the world. They teach that if only the believer would do this right or that right, they will be blessed with everything they want. These teachers and their followers have been deceived into believing a false gospel, not in Jesus Christ as Lord.

If we believe in angels, then we must also believe in demons. We join with the angels of God in praise and thanksgiving, but also in war against the powers of the enemy. Satan does not like that we believe in Christ and will do whatever he can to turn us away. He is sly, knows the scriptures better than we do and can twist them oh so slightly to make his lies appear true. He has gotten a foothold into some churches, leading the sheep down a path of destruction rather than salvation.

We can rejoice in the knowledge that Christ loves His people and will do all He can to protect us from the enemy, but we must be aware that Satan is real and roaming in this world trying to make us turn away from the promises of Christ. We are not alone in this battle, for Jesus walks with us and His angels watch over our lives. By His Holy Spirit we produce the fruit of faith, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Be wary of those who bear any other fruit, for he or she might be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.