All posts by Carol

The Better Half – May 9, 2021

I was introduced to ‘The Battle of the Sexes’ at an early age. I had an older sister, Tammy, who was always telling me that girls were smarter than boys. I never gave it much thought until I went to school and the boys informed me that she was wrong…boys are smarter than girls!

Studies done on children in the United Kingdom and the United States in 2012 and 2018, also reveal that, on the average, girls score 9 percent higher on most test subjects across the board. In part, that is because girls tend to mature faster than boys. So, maybe my sister was right after all.

In school, we often played games that pitted boys against girls. And our education system often set boys against girls. While boys were the fastest runners and better at sports in general, the girls often surpassed us to win the spelling bees.

From an early age, I found girls to be fascinating. They wore pretty dresses, smelled good, and had ponytails that I could pull. But it didn’t take long to recognize they were more delicate and would cry more easily. For instance, during dodge ball, they did not like getting hit with the ball.

Occasionally I would run into a tomboy, a tough girl. They were rougher and played harder, but we were always taught to be sensitive. It was ok if a girl hit you, but you could never hit them. I am glad we don’t teach that one anymore. No one should hit anyone.

In our house, my sisters seemed to get the best of everything, and I was always in trouble. My mom and grandmother gave them the benefit of the doubt. Not the case with me. I always heard that boys were troublemakers. To be honest, it was my older sister who pushed the boundaries. I was the middle child and I was always trying to make peace.

I always thought it would be great to be a girl, they were cute and seemed to get everything they wanted. But my older sister informed me, that wasn’t true. Women wanted equal rights, equal pay, and equal opportunities. Apparently, life is tougher than we imagine as children.

When I was little, ‘Father knew best’ and kids were never as smart as adults. ‘Leave it to beaver’ taught me that. I often wondered why everyone would ‘love Lucy’, after all the crazy things she did. Today, many television shows portray the smart wife and kids and the dumb dad. Funny how things change.

Over the years, I tried to get a handle on the differences between men and women. There have been many attempts to explain it. I read all the best sellers, like, “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” or the popular, “Men are like Waffles and Women are like Spaghetti”.

In a world where our sexuality has been turned upside down, the topic is more confusing them ever. Do children need both a father and a mother in the home? If not, why did God create both men and women to be so different? I am sure he had a good reason for creating the family the way he did. It made me wonder, what started this battle of the sexes and what was God’s original plan. 

We have to go back to Genesis to see the root cause of our troubles. When God created A-dam (the man) in the garden, he noticed he was lonely, and no suitable mate could be found.

So, God gave him a little anesthetic and created, Eve (a Women), for Adam from his side (Scripture says from a rib). (Genesis 2:21)

When the angel, Lucifer, saw how much time God was spending with his new creation, he became angry and jealous. So, Lucifer disguised himself as a snake and tempted the couple with fruit from the forbidden tree in the garden. (Ezekiel 28:11-19 and Luke 10:18 fill in the back story)

We know that both Adam and Eve ate the fruit and then they lied about it, to God. The first sin was born and the people and the world was changed forever. But here is what I want you to notice…God created Eve to be Adam’s equal. They were equal in value, dignity, and in worth. Together, they were the perfect couple. There was trust, love, honor, and respect. They were equal heirs to the Kingdom of God. They complimented one another.

Adam recognized the tremendous gift and worth of a woman. The first man saw the queen inside of her. She was to be coveted, protected, and cherished. Along with his relationship with God, she completed the balance of his life. With his work and relationships, Adam had purpose and love.

This woman was not something to be used or abused. She was not to be tossed aside; she was his crowning glory. Together they subdued the earth, cared for and ruled over creation, and would start a family. She was not a competitor to overcome but rather, a companion to walk with on his journey. Proverbs 12:4a reads, “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband.”

She was not a threat to his ego, but a helper for whatever was needed in a time of crisis. She was God’s gift to Adam and the world and helped establish that all God had created was Very Good. But ‘The Fall of Mankind’ drove a wedge between us and God. Scripture says it also separated us from the earth and the animals. Finally, it caused the division between men and women. Sin kept us from felling unified with one another. That was the devil’s plan from the beginning; he was trying to tear apart God’s creation.

That wedge has laid the seeds of male chauvinism, sexual harassment, demeaning comments, and jokes, abuse of all kinds (physical, sexual, and emotional), downplaying housewives, and marital unfaithfulness.

As Faithful Christians, we are to work at restoring a right relationship with God and each other. We need to keep that first model, God’s perfect plan between males and females, as our focus.

No one does that better in the Bible than Pricilla and Aquila. Pricilla and Aquila were a first century Christian missionary couple described in Acts and are traditionally listed among the first Seventy Disciples. They have been called the most famous couple in the Bible since they are mentioned 7 times, always as a couple and never individually. You can find them mentioned, 4 times in Acts 18, and they are found in Romans, 1 Corinthians and finally in 2 Timothy. Here is their story…

While in Corinth, Paul met a Jew named Aquila, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Pricilla, because Claudius in 52 AD had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker, as they were, he stayed and worked with them.

Their tents were made of rough goat’s hair fabric, which took great skill to cut and sew properly. It was a job always in demand, since many Hebrews had tents that needed repair. And it was a great way to remain inconspicuous, while Paul shared the gospel on the side.

Even in Corinth, teaching and preaching about Jesus could get you thrown out of the synagogue. Many people resisted and some might report them to the authorities. So, they began teaching in homes, Titus Justus was one of the first to invite them in. (Acts 18:7)

Paul stayed on in Corinth with them for about 18 months. Then he left and sailed for Ephesus, accompanied by Pricilla and Aquila. They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul eventually left them there as he went on to Caesarea. In Ephesus, Pricilla and Aquila met a man named Apollos, from Alexandria, who spoke boldly in the synagogue. Apollos was a learned man, who knew his scriptures. But he knew more about John the Baptist and his prediction of the coming Messiah, than he did about Jesus.

When Pricilla and Aquila heard him, they were so impressed, they invited him into their home for dinner. Once he was there, they explained to him, the work of God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Pricilla and Aquila may not have been accomplished public speakers, but they were diligent students of the word, and they loved to share it with others. Mind you, they had a year and a half with Paul, listening, questioning, and mastering the life of Jesus. They were willing to invest the time necessary, to take one young man under their spiritual care and pour into his life, the things of Jesus Christ. It created a life-long bond between them.

As a result, of this encounter with Aquila and Pricilla, Apollos became a more effective servant of God whom some of the Corinthians later placed on a level with Peter and Paul.

Scripture says Pricilla and Aquila risked their lives for others and that their home became a ‘house church’ for sharing the Gospel. (1 Corinthians 16:19)

Here are some facts I want you to notice…

1) They worked together, ministered together, and are always mentioned together; they were a true model of a Christian couple. Of those seven times mentioned in scripture, five times Pricilla’s name is mentioned first. That is very unusual in their day, because it was the custom to list the husband’s name first. This reversal indicates Pricilla’s importance in the minds of the New Testament writers. Some even suggest that she was the real evangelist.

On a basic level, it does indicate that Pricilla was not teaching as a secondary partner, under the ‘covering’ of her husband’s spiritual authority. They were equal in status and practice. She wasn’t off in the kitchen while the men talked. There was respect in their home and Pricilla was a leader as well.

2) They knew what they believed. They studied their Scriptures and were some of the first theologians. They were willing to mentor younger people of the faith and challenge them. They kept God first in their relationship, and they had the right priorities. They surrounded themselves with good people of the faith and stayed strong in the synagogue. They prayed together, worked together, and remained committed to one another.

3) Finally, they shared all that they had with others. They were giving and compassionate. They raised money for Paul and for Apollos. They were hospitable and even opened their home to travelers and as a safe shelter for other Christians.

They learned to trust each other, support each other, and remain open to the call of the Spirit even in a world that was openly hostile to Christians and women of faith. To find a clergy couple so equally matched was very rare, if not impossible.

As Christians, I think we need to learn to put the battle of the sexes behind us. Acts 2:17 reminds us, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”

Paul gives us this insight in Ephesians 5:25 -28, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So, husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself…”

On this morning we need to recognize and bear witness to God’s purpose for us, as men, in relation to women. God’s intent was for men to be blessed with their presence. I think that is why Saint Augustine called wives ‘our better half’ way back in 397 AD.

God gave Adam a wonderful gift in Eve. Women are a joy and the perfect companion to men, and that is what God intended. While I may not be perfect, I know I have been blessed with Cindy. I married up! I am better because she is in my life. I am also blessed to still have my mother. I am honored to have two beautiful daughters (And a son). They keep my faith fresh with challenging questions and honest debate.

I learned so much from my grandmothers and aunts. They are the reason I have the faith. Without women in my life, I simply would not be the same person.

I hope you can look at the women in your life and say the same thing. And I pray that each day, we continue to appreciate them just a little more.

Your assignment is…to thank the women in your life and to do everything you can to love them and honor them. Call them, visit them, send cards, send flowers, or just thank God for them if they are gone.

And, if there is a separation between you and the women in your life…forgive them. Seek reconciliation, if possible. The only one that wants division is Satan. And he has already done too much damage.

Make this a day to honor women.         Happy Mother’s Day.

“And all God’s People said, Amen”

“What should Never be Forgotten” – May 2, 2021

A man was on a business trip, when he realized he had forgotten his wife’s birthday the day before. Frantic and wanting to avoid her disappointment, he went to the jewelry department in a very expensive store.

Open and honest he said, “I missed my wife’s birthday yesterday. I need something that says I love you, so that way she will forget that I missed her birthday.” The woman behind the counter smiled and said, “I’m sorry sir, but we don’t sell anything as expensive as what you’re going to need.”

In 1953, singer Cecil Allen Null wrote a song called, “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know”. I must admit, I know how he feels. The truth is, I am not alone, we all forget. In Fact,

research on forgetting shows that within one hour, people will have forgotten an average of 50 percent of the information you share. Within 24 hours, they have forgotten an average of 70 percent of new information, and within a week, forgetting claims an average of 90 percent of it. By the end of a month, 98% of the information is lost, unless we spend time refreshing ourselves.

Neurologist and researcher, Dr Karen Bolla, at John’s Hopkins Bloomington School of Health lists the top three things most people forget; #3 – numbers, like phone numbers and dates; #2 – Where something is, like your keys or cell phone; and #1 – names.

That is why the Bible is continually instructing us not to forget what is most important. Over 250 times, the people of God are told to remember and only about 65 times are we told to forget.

God tell us to remember our covenants; remember the Sabbath to keep it holy; to remember Him and His mercy; remember the people and the land; remember God’s laws and commands; remember special moments and events (like the Passover); Remember you were slaves and outcasts; remember His wonders and miracles,…and the list goes on.

2 Timothy 2:8 reads, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my Gospel.”

Sometimes when we read the Old Testament stories, we get frustrated with the Israelites (at least I do). God rescues them and later, they forget about God and he must rescue them all over again. God rescues the Israelites from Egypt, only to have them forget and later create a golden calf to worship.

After Moses and Joshua led them to the Promised Land and died, in Judges 2:10, we read in part, “Another generation grew up  after them, who did not know the Lord or the work he had done for Israel.”

To help them remember, God instructs the people to remember and celebrate covenants (agreements between God and his people); to have annual festivals; to recite God’s word often; and to build Ebenezer’s (Monuments to remember important events). Yet they still forget.

Eventually, God makes it super simple, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 

“Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”  (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

Do you remember the conversation between Jesus and the teachers of the Law about forgetting? It is found in Matthew 22:36-40. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” They were saying this to test him and were implying that there were too many laws to remember. In other words, pick one and tell us which one is the most important to remember?

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

So, if you follow these two, you won’t break any of the original Ten Commandments.

2 Equals 10! Jesus simplified the laws to make it easier for us to remember.

Wise King Solomon understood what The Lord had in mind and even copied his intent when he wrote, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:1-6)

Whenever Jesus wanted his disciples to listen carefully, he made a special emphasis by telling them to remember. Don’t forget these words or actions. In fact, do whatever it takes not to forget. Which leads us into our second scriptural passage today.

“When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you, before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again – until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

“After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

“And he took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:14-20)

Today we call this practice of taking bread and juice or wine a sacrament. And it is often referred to as Holy Communion or taking the Eucharist. While they are closely related, there are some differences in the words. Eucharist in Greek means thanksgiving, it is a noun. It literally means giving thanks for the body and blood of Jesus. While Communion is a verb and it means in fellowship with others. It is a shared experience.

There has also been a lot of disagreement over what Jesus meant when he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Was he merely meaning we ‘memorialize him’ or is something else going on?

The Catholic Church believes the bread and juice literally become His real body and blood, where most protestants believe Jesus meant this symbolically. Yet most of us believe there is something deeper in the works.

We believe there are three aspects at work in this sacrament that relates to the past, present and future. When Jesus said do this in remembrance of me, he was saying, “Do this so you don’t forget”! The question is, what is it that we are not to forget?

First, we are to remember this Last Supper in the same way the Jews remember the Passover feast. In this sense, it is like a memorial, as we reflect on past actions and celebrate his action and love. We remember how Jesus shed his blood and died, like a lamb to the slaughter, to take away the sins of the world. Then, how he rose back to life at the resurrection.

Second, we should reflect on how this impacts us today. The Christian life is not merely the remembrance of a historical Christ in the past, but it is the present participation in a living Christ, who is present with us now. We are to live in and through Him.

He is our model and our hope. Then, through the power of the Holy Spirit we are transformed each day, more into his likeness, so his will, will become ours.

Third, there is prophecy and future fulfillment in his words and action. Jesus said, “For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Jesus is predicting His second coming. It is the time we will all feast at his heavenly banquet. So, there is joy and anticipation for us.

For us, these are three separate events. One in the past, one now, and one to come, but in Jesus’ perspective, time no longer exists. So, all three things take place at once. They overlap. So, while we are remembering what Jesus did, we are being transformed and healed and sharing the communion with all of those throughout time and in heaven. It all comes together in one moment. Think about that for a while!

So, when we take communion, we remember, and we are changed. The real presence of God is with us, and we truly receive this grace, mercy, and love.

Because of these three aspects, John Wesley would get so excited about communion, he would seek to take it every day.

As we take communion today, remember his actions in the past, reflect on how his sacrifice is changing you now, and celebrate all that is to happen when He returns. That is the true circle of life!

Your assignment is…to create your own Ebenezer or artwork to help you remember what Jesus did. You can do this by setting up your own stone memorial, creating some art to put up where you will see it often, or keeping a list to reflect over, on your refrigerator. When you see it; confess, give thanks, and celebrate the love of God through Christ Jesus.

May you be so motivated,

“and all God’s People said, Amen”

Every Living Thing, the Lord God Made Them All – Apr. 25, 2021

A few years back, a read a story about a teenage boy, who, like so many teens today, participated in virtual schooling. He lived in a run-down mobile home community on the edge of Oklahoma City. Wade lived in that small trailer with his aunt. To be honest, they were living in a slum. The community experienced difficult challenges rooted in systemic poverty, poor health care and it was exacerbated by pollution and environmental degradation. 

Along the way, Wade discovered an abandoned van on the outskirts of his town that became his own, cozy hideaway. He attended virtual school from the van, and it gave him the chance to see other kids, connect with teachers, and absorb new ideas. The online experience was immersive, delivering him to other planets, landscapes, and horizons. He could visit art museums, travel in space, go to the beach, or talk with anyone in the world. The internet was his escape from the mundane struggles of his life, and he loved it.

This could have been a news story about how one teen was coping amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But it was instead, the beginning of a science fiction novel published ten years ago called ‘Ready Player One’ in which spending time in virtual worlds became the current strategy to cope with the suffering and of the real world.

While the virtual worlds in the book were perhaps more immersive than ours, the basic premise felt all too familiar, particularly in the context of our current virtual lives. With activities limited by COVID restrictions, with challenging news all around, it is a normal, human response to look for a way out, an escape, another world on which to set one’s sights. *

It reminds me of another child who was looking for adventure far from home, in fact, you might say, somewhere over the rainbow. Dorothy was bored with her life and wanted an adventure, so she ran away from home. But after some good advice she returned.

You know the story, a tornado came along and swept her up to the magical world of Oz. But in the end, she was so homesick, all she wanted was to get back home. One of her final remarks was this, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with…”.

When God created this wonderful world for us, he provided everything we needed. Genesis 1 reveals that it was God who created light, land, water, the sky, and the first day. He added vegetation, trees, and plants bearing seeds. He sprinkled the sky with stars, planets, the cosmos, and the sun.

God created with love, every living creature, from the beasts on the land to the birds in the air. He filled the seas with fish, whales, coral, and dolphins. Then God created mankind in his own image. He made us vegetarians, giving us every green plant, seeds, and berries to sustain us. Then God looked at everything he created; the heavens, the earth, and all of the creatures and humans and said that it was very good.

Genesis 2:15 reveals that man’s first job was to work and care for the Garden of Eden. Many today call that stewardship of the planet. Look out your back window or travel to a national park. The beauty is all around, the majestic mountains, gorgeous waterfalls, gouges, rivers, fields of flowers, giant sequoias, hot springs, and the most amazing wildlife you have ever seen.

We are supposed to take all of God’s creation in and admire it and look on in wonder. Job 12:7-10 reads, “Ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has created this? In His hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”

Have you ever been to the ocean? Have you heard the crash of the waves? Have you ever searched the beach for shells and listened to the sound of the ocean in one of them? It is not hard to imagine how early man thought the seas were endless and that God creation stretched out before them forever.

Even before we realized the earth might have limited resources, animals could go extinct, and the planet could suffer from overpopulation, God had a plan. In Exodus 23:10-11 god proclaimed, “For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.”

Remember how John 3:16 begins, “For God so loved the World…”

Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to redeem it. That includes all of creation. The final redemption comes when Jesus returns for the 2nd coming. Revelation says God will re-create and restore what has been lost and damaged. John records the future in his vision in Revelation 21, he says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.”

Did you catch that? The fall of mankind even effected heaven! Not only did our sin upset the balance on earth, it threw off God’s perfect plan completely. Who would have guessed our actions have eternal consequences? No wonder we need an Unblemished Savior to redeem us and restore us.

Do you remember the places you played and ran in as a child? I remember going to the woods and building a tree house, high up off the ground. I remember listening to the wind, as it whipped through the leaves. I remember smelling the scents of spring, the must of fall and being amazed at the tapestry of color in the fall leaves.

I remember playing and walking in the creeks in Ft. Wayne. The water was cold, clear, and refreshing. We tied ropes up on high branches and swung out from the edge of the banks and dropped into the nearly clear blue water of the river.

Sometimes I would lie on my back in the backyard and stare up at the stars in the sky. I tried to find all the constellations but could usually only find the big dipper. Have you seen the Milky Way? Have you witnesses meteor showers, falling stars, or eclipses?

There is nothing like running through a corn field, collecting eggs from the chickens, feeding the ducks, and playing with your dog in an open field. Have you ever jumped into a pile of hay in a barn? Run barefoot through the grass and stopped to smell the daises?

When I was young, I was only in the house long enough to eat, sleep and get ready for school. You could often find me in a tree eating red tart cherries, playing in the park, or riding my bike down the tallest hill I could find. Today, I find great joy in watching the red cardinals, blue jays, and yellow gold finch eating at our feeders outside the window.

Do you have a love story with nature? You don’t have to be a tree hugger to appreciate God’s beauty, and you often don’t have to travel to far. Although that may be different if you live in a big city. I have seen kids from cities find new life and joy on the farm. What seems everyday ordinary, something we take for granted, can be a new adventure to someone else.

Listen to Psalm 65:5-13. “You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, – the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations.

“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy. You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it.

 “You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.”

Most people, when life gets difficult, seek some kind of escape. Some find it in books, others in movies, and some on the internet. Still others find it in drugs and alcohol. Some immerse themselves in work or dream of some far-off paradise. Few stop and look around.

Episcopal priest, chef and author Robert Farrar Capon once wrote, “There is a habit that plagues many so-called spiritual minds: they imagine that matter and spirit are somehow at odds with each other and that the right course for human life is to escape from the world of matter into some finer and purer (and undoubtedly duller) realm…

“In fact, it was God who invented dirt, onions, and turnip greens… God who, at the end of each day of creation, pronounced a resounding “Good!” at the end of his concoctions. And it is God’s unrelenting love of ‘all the stuff of this world’ that keeps it in being at every moment. So, if we are fascinated, even intoxicated, by matter, it is no surprise…” (The Supper of the Lamb, 2002)

Lest we forget, we have something in common with the earth. Mankind was formed from the dust and mud of the earth. (Genesis 2:7) And we will return to the earth, at the end of this life. (Genesis 3:19) Yet, we are filled with the breath and life of God and that Spirit is eternal.

Psalm 103:13-14 reads, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear (or stand in awe of) him; for he knows how we are formed, and he remembers that we are dust.”

If you wonder how precious the world is to the Lord, look how often the use and gift of the Land is mentioned in the Bible. There are over 1462 references to it in the NIV Bible.

From the towering mountains where Moses talked to God, to the rich valleys of David and Solomon, and the lands that were promised to God’s People, lands of milk and honey.

Over and over again, the Bible gives honor to God through all of creation, including the animals.

Psalm 104:24-25 was the inspiration for the author and veterinarian James Herriot.

He wrote, ‘All Creatures Great and Small’, ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’, ‘Every Living Thing’, and ‘The Lord God Made Then All’.

Psalm 104:24-25 reads, “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both great and small.”

Rev. Wendell Berry wrote, “If we desecrate the land, we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness.” So, the question we should ponder is, “How can we best care for the planet’s millions of human and natural resources?” And finally, what are we leaving for future generations? 

I want to end with this poem by the Trappist Monk and author Thomas Merton. It is about the sound of the rain.

What a thing it is to sit absolutely alone, in the forest, at night, cherished by this wonderful, unintelligible, perfectly innocent speech, – the most comforting speech in the world, the talk that rain makes by itself all over the ridges, and the talk of the watercourses everywhere in the hollows!

“Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it.

       It will talk as long as it wants, this rain.

                As long as it talks, I am going to listen.”

Your assignment is…to spend some time this week, in and admiring God’s creation. Take a walk in the woods – but take a new path to explore. Plant a tree or flowers. Spend some time in the garden or sit be a stream. Stop in the late evening and look up at the moon or stars. Or take your dog for a walk – but don’t forget to look around.

If you are still at home and cannot get out, even to your backyard, watch ‘Nature’, Wednesdays on PBS. Read a Nature book or take some time to explore what the Bible says about God’s Creation. There is a world outside just waiting to be discovered, and God created it all for you and me.

May it be so,

“And all God’s People said, Amen”

* Special Thanks and inspiration to Rev. Jenny Phillips for her Global Earth Day reflections titled, “Something Better Than Here”.

The Search for Jesus – Apr. 18, 2021

One Sunday morning, a pastor announced to his congregation, “Next week I plan to preach on the sin of lying. In preparation for that message, I’m asking you all to read Mark Chapter 17 this week.”

The following Sunday, he stood up to preach and asked, “How many of you took the time to read Mark 17 this week?” Nearly every hand went up. The minister smiled and replied,

“That’s very good”, he said, “except Mark only has 16 chapters.”

US News Health did a poll in 2009 with Psychology Today on why we lie and why we believe the lies of others. They say, by the age of four, 90% of children have learned the concept of lying. Based on studies performed in the recent past, it is estimated that 60% of adults cannot have a 10-minute conversation without lying at least once. Within those ten-minutes, an average of 3 lies were told.

When asked, who do we lie to the most, they found; we lie to our Parents – 86% of the time, Friends – 75% of the time, Siblings – 73% of the time, and our Spouses – 69% of the time. They say we lie about everyday events, we lie on resumes, we lie to our doctor or dentist, to our boss, and to our pastor.

The common reasons we lie are; to save face, to shift blame, to avoid confrontation, to get our way, to be nice, and because lying makes us feel better about ourselves. They say that because we tend to lie so often, we are also prone to believe lies told to us. Sometimes living in denial or believing what we want to hear is easier than hearing the truth.

Ever since Americans got plugged into the internet, we now live in the information age. Just about anything you want to know ‘is at your fingertips or voice command’ on your computer or phone. In fact, psychiatrists call this the age of information overload. There is so much information and social media output, they say, it is sometimes hard to find the truth.

Our former president called this information ‘Fake News’. In the past, we called it propaganda, hoaxes or disinformation, entertainment news or yellow journalism. This meant the information was exaggerated, tainted, or just outright lies. Many people call this kind of information conspiracy theories today.

Things were not much different in Jesus’ day. The Bible repeatedly warns followers about believing in false prophets. Matthew 7:15-16 reads, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.”

In Jesus’ day, people separated themselves out by faith and by where they lived. For instance, you might classify yourself as a Jew, Gentile, Greek, Samaritan, or a Pagan. Likewise, you may be a Pharisee, Sadducee, Essene, or a Zealot. Just to name a few. People expected the Zealots and fanatics to mislead them, but never the Teachers of the Law. But never say never.

Matthews Gospel tells us that just past the Sabbath, on the third day, early in the morning, heaven came down and rocked our world. ‘There was a violent earthquake, when an angel of the Lord came down and rolled back the stone at Jesus’ tomb and sat on it. His appearance was like lightening, and his clothes were white as snow.

‘The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.’ (Matthew 28:2-4) This may indicate that they were so frightened, they passed out or lay quietly on the ground. When the women arrived, the angel said,

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him. This is my message for you.” (Matthew 28:5-7)

After the angel disappeared and the women left, the guards awoke and made their plans. They knew they had a problem. So, at the same time the women were running to tell the disciples the good news, some of the guards headed to the city. Some may have remained at the tomb or gone home because they were frightened, scripture is unclear. But the ones who went to town, immediately went to the chief priests to report everything that had happened. (Matthew 28:11)

Looking back to Matthew Chapter 27, we see why the guards were by the tomb. The chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate and asked him to place a guard by the tomb to keep the disciples from stealing the body. Pilate responded, “Take a guard and go make the tomb as secure as you know how.”

So, they went and secured the tomb and even placed an official seal on the stone. If anyone broke this seal, except the guardsmen, they would be subject to death. This was not a punishment that could inflict on an angel!

After the chief priests heard what happened, they called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. No one went to check out the tomb to check the validity of what was reported, they believed the guards. That is because a Roman Sentry was a highly reliable group of elite soldiers. There were 16 to 30 fully armored and well-trained soldiers in a Sentry.

They were skilled at torture and cold enough to gamble over a dying man’s clothes in front of his family. In fact, if they slept on the job or failed to keep their watch, they would face crucifixion themselves. So, if they were frightened, then what they said, must be true.

The soldiers waited for the ruling of the Sanhedrin quietly. It wasn’t in their best interest yet to report back to Pilate. If he determined they failed in their duty, they would surely pay with their lives. They were hoping for a better outcome.

The Sanhedrin had a decision to make. When the news got out that the tomb was empty, some would believe in the resurrection of Jesus. But it was something they could not hide. They had no choice but to acknowledge the empty tomb, but they needed to find some way ‘to shut down the talk of resurrection’ that the women were sharing.

The first choice was easy. Women were not considered reliable witnesses, so what they said, would likely be dismissed. The next part was more difficult. Scholars throughout the years have tried to re-imagine their discussion and gain insight into their choices.

Theory 1: Somehow Jesus must have survived the crucifixion; this is sometimes called the Swoon Theory. It goes, Jesus lost so much blood that he appeared dead but survived, only to wake up later. The problem with that theory is multi-faceted. How would Jesus get out of a sealed tomb? That also meant, that the Roman Guards failed to kill Jesus, not likely. In fact, ludicrous.

Theory 2: The Romans took the body and dumped it somewhere in a ditch. After a crucifixion, the Romans often left a body on the cross to rot. If they took it down, they might through it in a lime pit to rot but that was treatment left for the worst of the worst. Remember, the Romans had no argument with Jesus. They had no reason to steal his body. And certainly, no reason to lie about it.

Theory 3: The Mistaken Identity. This theory claimed that someone who looked like Jesus impersonated him after the burial. This still cannot explain the scars in his hands and side or his mysterious appearances. The truth is, the disciples were just as shocked as others at Jesus resurrection and they certainly wouldn’t be willing to die for a lie.

Theory 4: Mass Hallucination. This theory says, after the burial, the disciples and others just imagined they saw Jesus. But how could so many, 500 plus people all hallucinate at one time? In fact, the disciples never really believed in the resurrection until they saw Jesus raised. This was not something they would have or could have imagined.

But that still doesn’t explain the stone rolled away, the broken seal at the tomb or the missing body. Many scholars believe that the soldiers that were left behind were searching for Jesus’ body. It was the only thing that would save them. Yet, to this day, it has never been found. And it is still a point of humiliation for many.

The final theory was that the disciples stole the body of Jesus. In many ways, this was their best option. They had already set the plan in motion by asking for guards to watch the tomb. So, they went ahead and created a 3-part plan. First, they would bribe the guards to say they fell asleep and claim the disciples came and took the body. Maybe they could add that they were somehow drugged.

Second, the guards must agree to tell the lie. The grave was empty, and they had no other way of explaining it than a real resurrection and no one wanted that. It threatened the authority and reputation of both the Romans and the Teachers of the Law.

Third, since the soldiers were in their care, Pilate would follow their lead. So, they agreed to report that the soldiers did their job and that they were satisfied with the outcome. There would be no need to say anything to the Roman leaders about what really happened. Of course, something this major was bound to be found out.

Matthew 28:15 says, “The soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this vary day.” That is with the understanding that Matthew’s Gospel was written about 30 years after the fact.

But the disciples were never arrested, because there was no evidence that tied them to the missing body. There was no trial and as far as we know, no consequences for the Roman Guard. Just a lingering mystery, where did Jesus’ body go?

Jewish writers like Justin, outside the Bible mention the missing body. In the lost Gospel of Peter, found many years later, he records that the Roman soldiers were told to keep quiet for fear of death by Pilate or for fear of stoning by the Jewish people. They had no choice but to remain quiet, they were between a rock and a hard place, so to speak.

All but one of the disciples, after the resurrection, were martyred. 

They were tortured and killed but still swore to the end that Jesus was resurrected. They preached with conviction and complete confidence, something they could not do if what they were saying was false.

Throughout the years, many who did not believe in the resurrection have tried to disprove it. At least 11 famous journalists and often agnostics or atheists did research, and in the end came to believe in Jesus and the resurrection because of their findings. Including: Frank Morison, Jobe Martin, Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel.

Now, I want to make this completely clear; to be a Christian, you must believe in the resurrection of Jesus. There is no leeway here. It is the most important component of the Gospel; it is the main event. In fact, it is the greatest event in human history. His death on the cross was not the end of His Journey. It would mean nothing if He had not risen. The resurrection completes the story, that is, until he comes back again for the 2nd coming.

As Paul writes to the church at Corinth, “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

“But, in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died or fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.” (1 Corinthians 15:16-21)

The disciples never pulled any punches, they gave us the ugly truth about their own betrayal and the death of Jesus. They told us how the women arrived first at the tomb. They even described their own disbelief. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose if they were promoting a lie. Yet their lives and deaths testified to what they witnessed and believed, a resurrected Jesus!

Augustine once said, “When regard for the truth has been broken down or even slightly weakened, all things will remain doubtful.” He was 100 percent correct. When we say, there is no absolute truth, we can make anything true. That is the age we live in today. It’s not far from Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

The truth is God created and man sinned. Man floundered and Jesus came to our rescue. His life is a testament to what God’s original plan was meant to entail. We were meant to live in harmony and peace with God and one another. As Rev. Fredrick Buechner once wrote, “Resurrection means, the worst thing is never the last thing.”

No other faith has a resurrection and a living Lord. No other faith has the promise of eternal life. No other faith has promises kept, prophecy fulfilled and a solid record to prove it. No other faith has forgiveness of sin, not by works, but by grace. No other faith has an empty grave and witnesses to a resurrection. That is because, they do not have Jesus, God incarnate. Truly God and Truly man. They do not have the power of the Holy Spirit that binds us together.

Don’t believe it? I dare you to research it for yourself. Others have, and they have found the truth. Jesus Christ IS Lord! And no lie will ever change that! On this truth, I stand.

Let’s Pray,…

 “And all God’s People said, Amen”

“I Saw Him Die!” – Apr. 11, 2021

In 1990, the movie ‘Ghost’ was a box office smash at theaters. The movie was a romantic thriller starring Patrick SwayzeDemi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg. The plot revolved around a murdered bank teller who refused to go to the great beyond after he was killed. Instead, he remained close to his girlfriend until the mystery of his death was revealed.

Despite mixed reviews at the time, it went on to become the number one movie of the year and even won 2 Academy awards. At that time, it was the 3rd highest grossing film of all time. It’s claim to fame is, that it solidified how Americans see and believe in ghosts and evil spirits.

In a 2019 poll, 45% of Americans said they believe in ghosts. In a similar study, 91% of Christians said they believe in ghosts and evil spirits. In fact, over 80% say they would be terrified if they ever saw a ghost. That has gone up considerable since 1984, when most people laughed at the ghosts in ‘Ghostbusters’.

Since the beginning of time, tales of spirits who come back to haunt the living figured proximately in the folklore of most ancient cultures. Many scholars claim the Bible as the starting place for those stories. It comes from Genesis chapter 4. After Cain gets jealous and kills his brother Abel, the Bible records these words from God, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10) 

The most prominent ghost story in the Bible is found in 1 Samuel chapter 28. It is the story of Saul and the Witch of Endor. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritualist from the land but was later haunted by bad dreams. So, he went to see a witch to have her bring back the prophet Samuel from beyond the grave.

Samuel’s spirit comes up as a floating apparition and predicts the death of Saul and his sons. His presence frightens both the witch and Saul and has left its mark on all those who have come after. (1 Samuel 28:1-25)

In the first century A.D., the great Roman author and statesman Pliny the Younger recorded one of the first notable ghost stories in one of his letters, which became famous for their vivid account of life during the heyday of the Roman Empire. Pliny reported that the specter of an old man with a long beard and rattling chains, was haunting his house in Athens. 

In Jesus’ day, they were greatly influenced by Greek philosophy and belief in evil spirits and demons was taken very seriously. The word ‘ghost’ in Greek is phantasma, which means specter, spirit, or phantom. They believed that, in some cases, the dead appeared in physical form. In fact, it was also believed in their day, that the sight of an angel most often meant bad news.

Now, let’s set the stage for our scripture this morning. Just a few days before, the disciples had witnessed the worst think possible, the torture and death of their beloved teacher. They had heard the crowd shouting, “Crucify him!” They had seen the results of the horribly beating Jesus endured.

They had watched Jesus stagger down the crowded street, as he struggled to carry the cross beam. They saw the blood as it oozed from his head, back, arms and legs. They heard the crack of the mallet against the iron spikes, as they nailed his hands and feet to the cross. And then, they watched Jesus, in agony, take his last breath and die on the cross. 

To be sure he was dead, a Roman soldier pushed a spear into Jesus’ side, all the way up to the flood sack around his heart. Blood and water came out. There was no need to break his legs, clearly Jesus was dead. The disciples were probably watching from a distance as they removed his body from the cross. And they may have followed and watched as he was placed in a tomb.

The mountain of empirical evidence confirmed that Jesus was DOA, dead on arrival at the tomb. They were disillusioned, crushed, and devastated by their teacher’s death. And they were in fear for their own safety. Barely able to sleep, their nightmares must have been horrible.

Then the news came from the women that Jesus’ body was missing from the tomb. How much worse could this get? Not believing, Peter and John went to see for themselves. It was true, the body of Jesus was missing. But the situation was confusing.

No grave robber unwrapped the body before they stole it. And stranger yet, it looked like Jesus’ body had just evaporated through the wrappings, as they still lay in the shape of a man. With the face coving lying separately above them. Scripture says John saw this and believed. But even if he believed, how could he explain this to others?

Frightened by this new information, the disciples gathered to discuss it in the upper room, the same room they had eaten the last supper in with Jesus. Because they were afraid that the Jewish leaders would come for them and arrest them, they locked the doors. (John 20:19)

In this room were 10 of the original disciples and some friends. Judas had already taken his own life and Thomas had not yet returned from his visit home. They were in a state of near hysteria and panic stricken. What did all this mean?

Out of nowhere, Jesus appeared and came and stood by them and said, “Peace be with you!” (Luke 24:36, John 20:19)

Luke’s Gospel says they were startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost. Let’s just stop there for a moment.

What were they supposed to think? No one had ever experienced a true resurrection from the dead. They had seen Jesus raise Lazarus and 2 others – but that was more like they were resuscitated.

We still struggle with what it means for Jesus to be truly resurrected. The same way we wonder, how could Jesus be Fully God and Fully Man; we wonder, how could Jesus have a body yet be a spirit. First off, they had no idea how he got into a locked room.

The entire scene makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Like in the old Abbot and Costello movies, I can almost see them shaking and hear their teeth chatter.

As you might recall, this was not the first time the disciples thought they saw a ghost. In Matthew chapter 14, the disciples were out on the lake and Jesus came walking toward them on the water. When they saw him, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, crying out in fear.

Let me just say, I saw a young woman get hit and killed by a car when I was in middle school. It was near dark and she ran across the road into the path of an oncoming car.

I often dreamt about what I saw and when driving late at night, sometimes re-lived the scene in my mind. It was frightening.

A few times, after someone in my family died, late at night before I dozed off, I could swear I saw that person, walk into the room. Or, on occasion, I heard that person’s voice. Did I see a ghost? Probably not, but sometimes our minds play tricks on us. Let me just be clear, I do believe in angels and spirits, just as the Bible speaks of them.

So, it is not surprising that the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost. They believed that people who died horribly could haunt the living. And let’s be honest, they abandon Jesus when things got tough.

Clearly Jesus understood what they were thinking, and he was not angry. He said to them, 

“Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I, myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

‘When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. “And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 

They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.’ (Luke 24:37-43)

Everyone knows you can’t touch a ghost, right? And no ghost can eat, so, Jesus must be the real deal, — well, sort of. This still doesn’t explain how he appeared inside a locked door! This was amazing, in fact, too good to be believed. And nearly impossible to wrap your mind around. They rubbed their eyes and blinked, but he was still there.

Later, Thomas would arrive, and he believed the disciples were suffering from mass hysteria; that is, until he saw Jesus himself.

“Then Jesus spoke some words of assurance to the disciples, He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

“Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 

You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:44-48)

It tells us something, when we think, it would have been easier for them to believe in Jesus as a ghost than as a resurrected man. How does one even talk about something so new and exciting? Who would believe them?

But my guess is that understanding the resurrection of Jesus took time to sink in. I imagine later they thought about, with fresh insight, the words Mary reported near the grave. Jesus said to her, “Don’t cling to me.” It was Jesus and he was alive!

Then they remembered the story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus walking with two disciples. How he talked and how he broke bread with them.

Finally, when some disciples went back to fishing, Jesus came to them on the beach and cooked some fish for them. They touched him and spent time with him. Over time, it must have been easier as it changed them.

One of the earliest heresies of the early church was called Docetism. It was the belief that Jesus only appeared to be present, and that he was just a spirit, not real. They believed he was an illusion. And that he never died on the cross.

But the physical touching of Jesus’ body, the marks, and scars and his being able to eat and drink, discounted those teachings. Over 500 people spoke to him, heard him, and saw Jesus in the flesh. Besides, who could argue with that and an empty grave?

The late United States Senate chaplain Peter Marshall wrote, “No tabloid will ever print the startling news that the mummified body of Jesus of Nazareth has been discovered in old Jerusalem. Christians have no carefully embalmed body enclosed in a glass case to worship.

Thank God, we have an empty tomb. The glorious fact that the empty tomb proclaims to us is, that life for us does not stop when death comes. Because death is not a wall, but a door.”

The words Jesus spoke, “Peace be with you” ring through to all generations. His words,

“I live, you also will live” give hope to all who trust in Jesus. (John 14:19)

Jesus did not deny the existence of ghosts, he simply said he wasn’t one. And Deuteronomy 18:10-12 warns us about communicating with the dead. So, do ghosts exist? I will leave you to ponder that, but the Bible leans towards no.

In 2 Corinthians 5:8 Paul writes, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body because when we are away from the body, we’re are at home with the Lord.”

In the end, there are many things we can believe, including believing in aliens or ghosts. But I prefer to believe in things where I have some real proof.

1 John 4:1 reads, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see ‘whether they are from God’, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Don’t be gullible. Use everything God gave you to evaluate the facts.

Then, you WILL see the truth. I believe in the witnesses and the Word of God. I believe in the empty tomb. And I take Jesus at his word. I believe. He is alive! Glory be, Jesus is alive.

Your assignment is, to read the resurrection stories. Next Sunday we will discuss the Guard’s report. It is so important to know what the Bible says, so that you are not misled. Know the truth and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32)

May it be so.

“And all God’s People said, Amen”