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For December 10, 2023

ISIAH 40:1-11


These words were written at the end of Babylonian captivity.  It is sort of God’s pep talk to His people, to prepare them for the long journey home.  The passage speaks of redemption and hope for the future.  It also contains a verse which is quoted in today’s gospel lesson.


I’ve broken this passage into five sections.  The Takeaway appears in each section:

  1. The first section proclaims to God’s people that they have been punished long enough; their “penalty is paid”.  They were sent to Babylon as a punishment, and now it’s time to go home.  (vv. 1-2) The penalty for our sins has been paid by Jesus’ dying on the cross. 
  2. The next verses are a proclamation, which is cried out by “a voice”.  Prepare a highway!  Cut it straight through the desert wilderness! (vv. 3-5) We also need to clear a path for Jesus to enter our hearts this Christmas.  Let’s tidy up!
  3. A new voice then cries out a reminder of our human frailty. We are as frail as grass, but God’s word lasts forever. (vv. 6-8)  As I grow older, these words take on richer meaning.  God’s Word is the only thing of lasting value. 
  4. Then comes our call to action.  Big things are about to happen, so we need to get to a high place, so people can hear us, and proclaim to the people that they should not fear, because the Lord is near!  (v. 9) We need to share the Good News!
  5. This passage concludes with a sweet promise of care and comfort.  The Lord will come to us, gather us in his arms, and gently lead us.  (vv. 10-11)  We should not fear the Lord’s coming.  We should look forward to it, knowing that we will be loved and cared for.

2 PETER 3:8-15a


The letters of Peter were written to the churches to provide them with encouragement in the face of persecution.  Today’s reading has an apocalyptic flavor, like those found in Revelation and Daniel. This literary form was often used to strengthen the resolve of those whose faith is being tested.  This style of writing provides a “big picture” view of history.  It shows that God is in control, no matter how badly things may appear at the present time. 


  • The first paragraph makes two interlocking points.  The first is that there is a big difference between our concept of time and “God Time”.  We want results in a day and a half; our creator’s concept of time is much broader. We’re waiting for Jesus’ return any moment, and God is being patient.  The reason for his patience is that he wants more people to love him. (Hint: It’s our job to get more people to love God.)  This reminds me of the love he has for humankind; he doesn’t want to lose any of us, so he waits.  (vv. 8-10)
  • The second paragraph asks a question that we should ask ourselves—“What sort of people should we be, while we wait?”  We are told that while we wait, we should lead lives of godliness and holiness. (vv. 11-13)
  • In case you didn’t get the point, the answer is repeated.  We should strive to be ”at peace”, and to be “without spot or blemish”.  I’m not sure which is harder to do, be at peace or be perfect!  But Peter does say to “strive to be”, rather than that we “must be”.  This reminds me of something my pastor told me long ago. He said that the word “salvation” means “God’s salvaging operation”.  In other words, our salvation is not a one-time event, but an ongoing process; we are continually falling into sin.  We need to be continually “salvaged” by God’s grace and mercy.  (vv. 14-15)



Apocalyptic writings all seem to differ in the details.  Apocalyptic writers are less concerned with accuracy.  They’re trying their best to describe a cataclysmic, indescribable event. In this passage, Peter uses the words “melting” and “dissolving” to describe the event.   We moderns want accurate details.  The differences between descriptions might be troubling for us. While details differ, the point is always the same—the end will bring indescribable chaos, but the faithful will have nothing to fear.  Because of our faith, we are protected from harm.  God is our refuge and strength.

So, while we wait for Jesus to return, we’re not going to be afraid.  Instead, we’re going to work on being perfect and at being at peace.  I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of work to do!  Thanks be to God, that he is patient, forgiving, and continually saving me from self destruction.

MARK 1:1-8


With Mark, we get no shepherds, no manger scene, no Mary and Joseph stories.  We get right down to the business of Jesus’ ministry, beginning with the story of John the Baptist.


  • Mark begins his gospel with a paraphrase of Isaiah 40:3.  Immediately after quoting Isaiah, Mark tells us about John the baptizer (or Baptist, if you prefer).  Mark is saying that John is the guy that Isaiah was talking about!  (vv. 1-2)
  • He tells us of how John did his work in “the wilderness”.  I always think of a mountainous forest.  That is not the case here.  His wilderness was more like a desert, but with a river running through it. John proclaimed a baptism of repentance and forgiveness.  (v. 4)
  • John is definitely a unique person, both in dress and diet.  But the people were drawn to him and his message, so he must have been quite charismatic.  But despite his weirdness, they came repentant, and were baptized.  (vv. 5-6)
  • John was clear on his vocation—he was just the forerunner, the messenger.  That the one coming after him was far more important. His job was to personify Isaiah 40:3 by preparing the way for the Messiah.  (vv. 7-8) 


What do you do, when your expecting a special house guest?  Around our house, there is quite a lot of cleaning, menu planning, shopping, etc. Jesus is coming on Christmas day. We must prepare ourselves for his arrival.  How do we do this?  We use the season of Advent for self-examination, repentance, and renewal; we cleanse our hearts. 

Jesus is coming!  He brings the Holy Spirit!  Get ready! 



The opening lines from today’s first reading brought to mind a sweet old Advent hymn.  These words were written nearly 400 years ago, somewhere in in the mid-1600’s.  These words still ring true today just as they did then. 

Comfort, comfort, O my people,

Speak of peace, now says our God;

Comfort those who sit in darkness,

Mourning ’neath their sorrows’ load.

Speak unto Jerusalem

Of the peace that waits for them;

Tell of all the sins I cover,

And that warfare now is over.


Hark, the voice of one who’s crying

In the desert far and near,

Bidding all to full repentance

Since the kingdom is now here.

O that warning cry obey!

Now prepare for God a way;

Let the valleys rise to meet him

And the hills bow down to greet him.


O make straight what long was crooked,

Make the rougher places plain;

Let your hearts be true and humble,

As befits his holy reign.

For the glory of the Lord

Now o’er earth is shed abroad;

And all flesh shall see the token

That his word is never broken.


For December 3, 2023


December 3rd is the first Sunday in the season of Advent. It also marks the beginning of the church year.  If you are not familiar with this season, I’ve provided an explanation in the following paragraphs.  If you are familiar with this season, feel free to jump to the next page.

The season of Advent in the church year begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas.  This year, it begins on November 29, 2020. 

The word “advent” means “coming”.  The season of Advent observes three “comings” of the Messiah: 

  1. The historic event, which took place in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.
  2. His coming to us this Christmas in 2023. 
  3. His return to earth, sometime in the future, when he will reign as our king.

Especially in the first weeks of Advent, we review the bible passages referring to his return.  The emphasis shifts in latter weeks to the first two.

What we do during Advent is prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child on Christmas Day.  We do this by self-examination; reflecting on the ways that we have not lived up to our end of our relationship with God. We resolve to make a fresh start. We often do daily family devotions, and sometimes light candles on an Advent wreath.  This is my favorite season of the church year.  Join me as we wait, watch, and prepare for Jesus to come into our hearts on Christmas Day. He is certainly already in our hearts; but by reliving the moment and this season, we rekindle our faith. 

ISAIAH 64:1-9


At this point in Israel’s story, they have returned from captivity in Babylon.  They are working to rebuild their country and their lives.  From the content of this passage, they are feeling discouraged and abandoned by God.  This passage is a lament, or a prayerful expression of sorrow.


  • The passage begins with Israel’s plea-payer to God. They feel alone.  They are begging God to make Himself known, like He did in olden times.  (vv. 1-5a)
  • The give God their confession.  They admit that they have sinned, and even their righteous deeds are like a “filthy cloth”.  (vv. 5b-7)
  • They appeal to God to rekindle their relationship, and make Himself known to them again.  (vv. 8-9)


We all experience ups and downs in our spiritual lives.  This passage speaks well to those down times.  But there is hope and yearning in this passage as well.  Sometimes even our good deeds feel like a filthy cloth. Why?  Has our sin and guilt dragged us down or distracted us?  Let’s start by confessing our sins to our Lord. We can take comfort and refreshment in the knowledge that we are forgiven.  Let’s clean those dirty rags!


Have you ever felt like God has “hidden his face from you”? (v. 7b)  How can we lift ourselves up from these lows, and renew our relationship with Him? Prayer and reading scripture are a good start, along with confession and forgiveness.  Observing the season of Advent provides us an opportunity to do just that.  Best of all is service.  By serving others, we are putting our faith into action.  Doing God’s work renews our relationship with God.



This is the introductory portion of one of Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth.   This church was both abundantly blessed not only with spiritual gifts but also with internal problems.  Yet, Paul starts out his letter with love and praise. 


  • Here is the main theme of this passage, the theme of thanksgiving.  How appropriate for this holiday week!  But Paul is not talking about a harvest thanksgiving.  His thankfulness is for the church in Corinth, and all that they have been blessed with.  (vv. 3-4)
  • These blessings include speech, knowledge, and spiritual gifts. (vv. 5-7a)
  • The “revealing of” and “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” are references to Jesus’ second coming.  The church back then was waiting patiently for his return, as we do today.  (vv. 7b-8)
  • Finally, are reminded that we are called by God into fellowship with His Son Jesus.  (v. 9)


The church is Corinth was a mess!  If you were to read the whole letter, you would discover that this church was full of petty rivalries and disputes.  But in spite of this, they were blessed with an abundance of spiritual gifts.  Paul praises their faith and energy, and is thankful for their work.

We, too, are blessed with gifts.  Yet, since we are sinful beings, we and our churches end up doing unchristian-like things.  Thanks be to God, that he loves, forgives, and blesses us in spite of our “warts”!


MARK 13:24-37


One of the themes of Advent is waiting and watching for Jesus’ second coming.  If today’s gospel lesson sounds familiar, it is because Mark and Matthew both record this discourse of Jesus.  Early this month, we studied Matthew 24 & 25, which contains many of these words. Today, we will focus on the areas not previously covered in our studies.

Mark 13 has often been called “The Little Apocalypse”. Apocalyptic writing is a style of writing which includes wild visions and scenes from the end of time.  Other apocalyptic writings occur in our bible, including Revelation, the second half of Daniel, and some of Ezekiel.  Today’s reading begins with verse 24.  To best understand today’s reading, I suggest that you start by reading all of Mark 13. 


  • By the time we get to the beginning of our passage, Jesus is speaking of the end times; of his return.  This is the form of a prophet poem.  Jesus is basically saying that when the end comes, everything will be turned upside down.  The sun won’t shine, and neither will the moon.  The universe, with all its stars, will come crashing down.  No wonder there will be suffering!  (vv. 24-25)
  • Jesus gives us hope and good news from this chaos. When Jesus descends, he will send forth his angels to gather up “the elect”; those who love and serve him. So, we can take comfort in knowing that if we are present for the chaos in verses 24 & 25, we will be protected from all this by our Lord.  (vv. 26-27)
  • Jesus teaches us the parable of the fig tree. These are key verses for some who study the end times.  I will discuss this in detail under the Takeaway.  (vv. 28-31)
  • Verses 32-37 have been discussed at length in studies we did a few weeks ago, from Matthew’s version instead of Mark’s.  A quick summary is found below.


Verses 28 & 29 are Jesus’ parable of the fig tree. To some Christians, this is a key passage for predicting the end times.  To them, the fig tree represents Israel.  The sprouting of leaves on the dormant tree is said to be the restoration of Israel as a nation in 1948.  When Jesus says “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place”, they say that once Israel has been restored as a nation, the end time will occur within one generation—40 years.  Since 75 years have now passed since 1948, it is time to revise this claim. The key to understanding this “prediction” is to go straight to verse 32.  Jesus admits that he really doesn’t know when he will return; that is up to his Father is heaven.  In other words, this information is none of our business.  What is our business is preparedness.  Jesus tells us to keep awake.  That’s our part in this whole process.


The big question here is how do we prepare, and keep awake?  We can’t possibly stay awake 24/7.  I will quote Barbara Rossing, a Lutheran theologian, seminary professor, and expert on this subject.  She says it better than I:

“We do not know when Jesus is returning again.  That is why we must live our lives at every moment as Jesus taught us.  The message to Matthew’s [and Mark’s] readers was the same as the message today:  Whatever traumas befall us, we are to be urgent in loving our neighbor, urgent in caring for the world that God created, urgent in feeding the hungry and visiting prisoners, urgent in living faithfully as Christ commanded us to live.” 

Barbara R. Rossing, “The Rapture Exposed”, (Basic Books, 2004), page 181.

November 26, 2023


I made a big mistake.  The reflection titled "For November 19, 2023" are the readings scheduled for November 26th.  The reflections below were read today, November 19th.  Please accept my apologies, if there was any confusion.


This is the third and final study on the “Day of the Lord”, or the “end times”.  I hope that you have come to understand this subject a little better.  Perhaps we can all look forward to that day with hope and expectation, rather than fear and dread.

This week, I will rearrange the order of the passages, and close with the epistle reading.


ZEPHANIAH 1:7, 12-18


The message preached by Zephaniah, and the complacency of God’s people sound very similar to last week’s reading from Amos.  The surprising thing is that they lived about 125 years apart!  So, it seems that history has a way of repeating itself.  And things are no different today.


  • Zephaniah announces that the day of the Lord is at hand, and he’s set to act.   (v. 7)
  • The people are so complacent, that they think God doesn’t care, and won’t do anything, if they disobey Him.  The phrase “complacency on their dregs” is a confusing phrase.  Maybe it means this:  When grapes are pressed to make wine, you have the fermenting juice on the top, with the dregs (the solid grape matter) down in the bottom of the vat.  If you don’t stir up the dregs, they will thicken, and destroy the wine.  Zephaniah is telling these spiritually lazy people that God is about to stir things up! (v. 12)
  • When you build a new house, and plant a garden, you have probably made plans to enjoy yourself in your new surroundings for a few years.  Zephaniah tells the people to not get too comfy; God is going to clean house.  (v. 13)
  • And clean house he does in the final paragraph. The first part of this, verses 14-16, sound like a war.  But the last verses sound more global; like an epidemic or global disaster.  (vv. 14-18)


Complacency is the reason God is upset with His people.  They are complacent in spiritual matters.  Laziness is another word for complacency.  They are spiritually lazy to the point of being arrogant with God. But let’s examine our own selves. What about our spiritual laziness?  Or are we living up to God’s expectations?


MATTHEW 25:14-30


Jesus is wrapping up his teaching, and is about to be betrayed, tried, and crucified.  He concludes his teaching with some lessons about the day of judgement.


Jesus teaches us a new lesson using a parable.  Remember to look for only one God Lesson in this parable, and not get hung up on the detail.

  • The story goes that a rich man was going on a journey, and entrusts three of his servants with his bank account.  He gives the servants five, two, and one talents respectively.  Now, a talent is a lot of money—15 years’ wages.  So, in today’s wages, at $50,000 per year times 15 years, a talent is worth $750,000 in today’s wages.  Yep, a lot of money. 
  • Well, the guys who got the most money, invested it, and doubled their money.  This pleased the owner.  But the guy who was given the least, went and buried the cash.  When the owner returned, he said “here’s your money back”. The owner was not happy.  He threw that servant out “into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  (There is a lot of teeth-gnashing in the gospel of Matthew.) 


So, what’s the God Lesson for us?  Why did Jesus teach this parable?

God entrusts each of us with spiritual gifts.  Every one of us has been blessed with spiritual abilities of one sort or another.  God expects us to use these gifts to build up his kingdom; to grow the Body of Christ.  Some of us are spiritually lazy, and do not use the gifts He has given us.  We disappoint God with our lack of action.  Let’s do our best to recognize our gifts, and put them to good use.




Paul is wrapping up his letter to the church in Thessalonica by giving them words of encouragement regarding the “day of the Lord”, or Jesus’ return.


  • Paul starts out by saying “I don’t need to tell you any of this, but…”, and then he goes on to tell them anyway.  (v. 1)
  • He uses two analogies, to illustrate the unpredictability of when Jesus will return  (vv. 2-3):
    • It will be like a “thief in the night”.  I’m surprised that he uses the word “thief” to describe Jesus.  But just as how you never know when someone will break into your house, you never know when Jesus will return.
    • It will be like a woman going into labor. (Here’s one we can all understand!) Unless your labor was induced, or you were scheduled for a C-section, you never know when that baby is coming. 
  • Next is the heart and soul of this passage. We are ”all children of the light”. Yes, you and me!  Since we are in Christ, we live in Jesus, the light of the world, not in darkness.  (vv. 4-5)
  • Then, we are encouraged to keep awake (or vigilant), and eagerly await his return.  (vv. 6-7)
  • Now, we put on armor.  But this is not ordinary armor.  This is the armor of faith, hope, and love.  These are unusual weapons.  (v. 8)
  • More words of encouragement— “God has destined us not for wrath, but for salvation”.  Paul is telling us not to worry, that God has our back.  (v. 0_
  • We can be so confident in this, that even if we do fall asleep, we know that we will still live with him!  (v. 10)
  • Since we know that God will save us, we can use our energy to encourage & build up one another.  (v. 11)


So, then, we should not be fearful for what lies ahead, as long as we are in Christ Jesus.  Our job is to remain faithful, and encourage & build one another up in faith.  In love, faith, and hope, we await his coming.                   

In church, we sometimes sing a sweet old Lutheran hymn— “Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness”.  I’m sure that it is not familiar to most of you.  It’s an old German hymn that was written around the year 1650, nearly 400 years ago.  One thing I like about singing these old hymns is that they connect me with Christians of all space and time.  I would like to share two of the verses here, because they are appropriate to Jesus’ return. 

Hasten as a bride to meet him,

Eagerly and gladly greet him.

There he stands already knocking;

Quickly, now, your gate unlocking,

Open wide the fast-closed portal,

Saying to the Lord immortal:

“Come and leave your loved one never;

Dwell within my heart forever.”


Jesus, source of lasting pleasure,

Truest friend, and dearest treasure,

Peace beyond all understanding,

Joy into all life expanding;

Humbly now, I bow before you,

Love incarnate, I adore you;

Worthily let me receive you,

And, so favored, never leave you.

For November 19, 2023


This Sunday is called “Christ the King Sunday”.  It is the day that we study and celebrate the concept of Jesus being our king.  We get a hint of this in the first lesson.  The passage from Ephesians leads us there, too. The Gospel lesson is the final destination. 


EZEKIEL 34:11-16,20-24


Oddly enough, this passage is one of my favorites.  To get the whole story, you need to read all of chapter 34.  But for those who don’t, these four verses sum up the problem:

1The word of the Lord came to me: 2 Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4 You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.

The shepherds in this prophecy are the leaders of the people, both the religious leaders and kings. The people are the sheep.  The “shepherds” are treating the “sheep” in a very ungodlike manner.  This prophecy is a judgement on the shepherds.


  • Our reading starts with what God is going to do about that situation.  He’s going to shepherd the sheep Himself.  (v. 11)
  • He’s going to round up his scattered sheep, feed them, provide them good pasture in Israel, etc. (vv. 12-16)  At the time God gave this prophecy to Ezekiel, God’s people were returning from captivity in Babylon.  Others had fled in many directions, when the Babylonians conquered Judah, 60 years earlier. Those people are called the “Diaspora”, meaning the dispersed ones.  God is going to gather them all!
  • Since God is our true king, he is going to judge the peoples.  He will sort out the fat from the skinny sheep; the abusers from the abused. He will serve justice.  (vv. 20-22)
  • Then, God makes a bold prophecy.  He says that he is going to give us a new shepherd, “my servant David”.  Now King David has been dead for about 400 years, when Ezekiel spoke this prophecy, so he didn’t mean that David, but someone from David’s lineage. 


What I like about this prophecy is the accountability.  Ezekiel 34 makes it crystal clear that God holds governments and religious organizations fully accountable for the care of the poor, the needy, the victimized, and the underprivileged.  America is a land where people can choose how they worship God.  But that freedom does not exempt our government from the moral responsibility of caring for the less fortunate.  God expects people of faith and the government to shepherd his sheep.



Much of the Paul’s writings are like Campbell’s condensed soup.  You would never think of eating a can of that soup without diluting it, would you?  Paul’s writing is often so jam-packed with God Stuff, that it is hard to digest. Today’s reading is like that.  I hope I don’t water it down, but that I only make it easier to digest.


  • This passage begins with Paul bragging on the Ephesian’s “love toward all the saints”. (v. 15)  The word “saints” here refers to all those who have accepted Jesus as their savior and Messiah.  The Catholic concept of canonized sainthood began in 993, some 950 years later. Don’t confuse the two. 
  • Because of their love, Paul prays to God for them.  (v. 16)
  • Paul’s prayer starts with verse 17.  It is a long and confusing prayer to follow.  Let me tell you a story, to maybe help you understand.

I’ve had the good fortune to travel to Venice, Italy.  While I was there, I visited the Doge’s palace.  The Doge of Venice was a sort of king, who was elected, and then ruled for life.  His palace was an outstanding place.  I learned that when you were granted an audience with the Doge, you had to go through several waiting rooms.  Each had doors that led into one and on to the next.  Each room was painted with murals that explained the greatness of Venice and the Doge.  At the end, you finally met the Doge.

Verses 17-20 take us on a similar journey, through seven rooms.  Come with me, and see where it takes us.

  • Room One: Paul asks God to grant us “wisdom and revelation”, that we may know him. By revelation, Paul means that heavenly wisdom and knowledge are revealed to us by God  (v. 17)     
  • Room Two: Equipped with this wisdom and revelation, Paul prays that our “hearts are enlightened”. (v. 18a)
  • Room Three:  Now that our hearts are enlightened, that we fully realize the hope we have in Jesus; the hope of eternal life.  (v. 18b)
  • Room Four:  With hope in our hearts, we learn of our “glorious inheritance”.  (v. 18c)  This is the realization that we are children of God, and thereby inherit the kingdom.
  • Room Five:  Now knowing about our glorious inheritance, we realize the enormity of God’s power. (v. 19)
  • Paul’s prayer for this church and us is that God will reveal all of this, the above “rooms” to us.
  • Room Six:  God energized Jesus with this power, when he raised him from the dead.  (v. 20a)
  • Room Seven:  God placed Jesus at his right hand on the throne in heaven. (v. 20b) 
  • We made it!  And look where we are—we are in heaven with Jesus and God the Father.  Now, we hear that Jesus rules over every ruler, authority, etc., both now and forever. Jesus is our KING!  (vv. 21-24)


“Jesus is Lord of all!” We say it so often that we don’t really think about what we’re truly saying.  Thanks to Paul and this seven-room journey, we are able to fully understand how awesome Jesus really is.


How does a king differ from n elected president?  How does someone behave in the presence of the President of the United States?  How does someone behave in the presence of a King?

MATTHEW 25:31-46


The funny thing is that most of us Americans know very little about the relationship between a king and their subjects, since America has never had a king.  Presidents are elected, not born to rule.  And their rule is subject to inspection by Congress, the Supreme Court, and ultimately the people.  A king’s rule is absolute; whatever he says, goes.  Finally, a president serves for a maximum of eight years, where a king serves for life. 

One thing that kings did was judge.  We all know the story about King Solomon, the baby, and the two mothers.  His judgement in that case was very wise.  Kings in medieval Europe also served as judges, listening to disputes of the people, and handing out judgements.  (There were no appeals to those decisions, wise or otherwise.)

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus demonstrates his kingship by judging the people.


This lesson comes to us in the form of a parable or a description of the last judgement.

  • Jesus returns to earth, and takes his rightful place on the throne.  Now, he does what kings do, he judges. (v. 31)
  • Next, he does something similar to what God did in Ezekiel 34:20, he separates the good from the bad, the sheep from the goats.  (vv. 32-33)

Here’s where it gets interesting.  He praises the “sheep” for all the good things they did to him. They say “when did we do this?” (vv. 34-39)               

  • His answer is profound, and is the heart of the God Lesson in this story.  “When you did it to one of the least of these…, you did it to me.” (v. 40)
  • He repeats the same with the “goats”, telling them why they are going to the “eternal fire”. (vv. 41-45)
  • His final words of judgement are chilling.  (v. 46)


In some circles of faith, you must “work your way to heaven”.  You must be good, and do good things.  By doing so, you earn “grace”, or what I call heavenly brownie points. 

I am taught that God’s grace is a free gift to all who believe in his son Jesus Christ.  Eternal life would take many lifetimes of perfection to earn by human effort.  And someone as lowly as me would not stand a chance.  Thanks be to God that he sent his only son to die for all my sins!  I have life eternal for what he did for me. My part or responsibility is to show that gratitude by imitating His kindness and compassion, and serving Him by serving others around me. 

For me, the takeaway from this story is not that I must be good or be damned.  It is that when I serve those in need, I am serving Jesus. I will never be good enough to earn heaven by myself.  Thankfully, Jesus paid that price, and made it free for the taking.

For November 5, 2023


The liturgical church year is coming to a close.  The church year begins with the season of Advent, which begins on November 29th this year.  At the end of this cycle, here in November, we consider the Parousia, or Jesus’ second coming. 

Loosely speaking, there are two schools of thought regarding the “end times”.   Evangelicals teach a highly-developed concept of the rapture.  At the seminaries of contemporary churches (i.e. Lutheran, Episcopal, Congregational, Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, etc.), they teach a different understanding.  My reflections are based upon this contemporary understanding.  I hope you find my reflections on this topic inspiring rather than disturbing.


AMOS 5:18-24


Amos lived in the northern kingdom of Israel in the eighth century B.C., before the Babylonian exile. He was troubled by the injustice around him, especially the disparity between rich and poor, and the lack of concern that the rich exhibited for the poor.  If you want to read what is wrong with God’s people at this time, Amos 5:11-13 and 6:4-7 sum it up nicely.


  • In the first paragraph, God’s people are looking for “the day of the Lord”.  For the people of Amos’ day, this meant the restoration of the glory days, like the time of Kings David and Solomon.  Amos tells his readers to be careful what they ask for. (v. 18)
  • He uses the contrast between light and dark, night and day to convey his message of warning. (v. 18b and 20) The bear, lion, and snake are other images he uses to say “Be careful what you ask for!” (v. 19)
  • Verse 21 makes a sharp left turn.  When God starts out a paragraph with “I hate”, I think it is time for us to pay close attention.  In Exodus 23:14-17, God tells his people to observe three annual festivals.  They are Passover, Pentecost, and the Booths (or Rosh Hashanah).  Here in Amos, He says that he hates them!  Why?  The answer is in The Takeaway below.
  • Worse yet, in verse 22 he says that He doesn’t want their love offerings.  He doesn’t even want to look at them. 
  • Even worse, He calls their songs of praise “noise”.  (v. 23) This is not good!
  • What does God want? Justice, plain and simple.  (v. 24)


Remember last week’s Gospel lesson, the Beatitudes?  “Blessed are the poor…”?  God’s chief concern is for the poor, the meek, the poor in spirit, etc. God expects us to mirror his love and concern for the care of the disadvantaged around us.

I love magnificent worship settings, and find them very uplifting and inspiring.  But if I don’t show God’s love in my daily actions; if I ignore the needs of the poor and broken in my midst, I behave exactly like Amos’ people.  God will find my worship displeasing and unacceptable. 


In America, one in five children go hungry.  Twenty percent of our children!  Are we to be like the people of Amos’ day, and ignore this tragic problem?  Or shall we be Children of God, and do His will on earth?




This passage contains a verse which Evangelicals believe to be the basis for their belief in the “Rapture”. I will be telling you about the other understanding; the one taught at the seminaries for the church organizations listed above.  If you are a devotee of the “Rapture”, I suggest you either skip this lesson, or read on to understand how others might interpret this. 

Most Christians at that time, including Paul, believed that Jesus’ second coming would happen at any moment.  Some Thessalonian Christians had already died, and were buried.  Their loved ones were concerned that the deceased would miss out on this eagerly-awaited event.  Paul explains it to them.


  • Verse 13 states the concern; some are worried about their brothers and sisters in Christ who have already died.
  •  In verse 14, Paul says “God’s got your back!”  (In different words, of course.)
  • Verse 15 states, Paul states that “we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord…” He repeats this in verse 17.  He obviously thought that he would be alive to witness Jesus’ return to earth.
  • Verse 16 gets to the heart of the matter.  When the trumpet sounds, and Jesus begins his earthward journey, the resurrection of the dead will happen first. 
  • Those still living plus the newly-resurrected will meet Jesus “in the clouds”.  (v. 17)  The only details we have about what happens next is that “we will be with the Lord forever”. 
    • Scripture tells us that Jesus will return to earth to conquer evil and establish a 1,000 year reign.  Rapturists believe that this passage means that Jesus descends from heaven, but does a “U-turn” in the clouds taking the raptured to heaven.
  • Contemporary Christians interpret this verse differently. The verb “meet” in Greek is “apantesis”, which refers to a custom of the day. When someone was on their way to your home to pay a visit, you would go out to “meet” them before they arrived at your door.  Then, you would escort them into your home.  Therefore, when Jesus returns, we will simply be part of the happy procession to lead him home.  I will give you three examples of this:
    1. When Mary goes to the home of her cousin Elizabeth, Elizabeth meets her on the road to her home.
    2. In the story of the prodigal son, when he returns home, the father runs to meet him “while he is far off”.
    3. After the death of Lazarus, Jesus heads to the scene. While he is still on his journey, both Mary and Martha have enough time and distance to make separate trips to meet him, before he arrives at their home.
  • Verse 18 is probably the most important and overlooked verse of this entire passage.  Now that Paul has explained what will happen (that’s what the “Therefore” means), he says we should encourage one another with these words.  Paul thought he was writing words of encouragement, not words to scare people.


When Jesus returns, we will all take part in the joyous parade!  It does not matter if we are alive or have already passed.  We will be part of the joyous celebration, and encourage, not terrify others with the good news of the second coming.



I was discussing with a pastor friend of mine the two different understandings of this passage; I was a little animated in my explanation.  He said “Don, it doesn’t matter.”  That stopped me dead in my tracks.  I thought about it, and realized that he was right.  If we are “in Christ”, it doesn’t matter whether it’s going to be the rapture or a parade—God’s got our back! 

Either way, we should be sharing the Good News, and bringing others to Jesus.  

MATTHEW 25:1-13


The 25th chapter of Matthew contains the last of Jesus’ parables.  The passion narrative begins in chapter 26.  Keep in mind that Jesus told parables to teach us one thing. Each parable contains one God Lesson. If we dig too deeply into these stories, we’re going to miss the God Lesson he intended for us.

It helps to know a little about the wedding customs of the day.  They were very different from how we do it today.  Back then, the groom would come to the bride’s house.  He’d take the bride and her bridesmaids, and make a procession back to his home.  That’s it!  They were married!  In this parable, Jesus teaches us another lesson about the kingdom, by comparing it to one of these wedding processions.


So, within the context of a familiar wedding scene, Jesus tells this story: 

  • The ten bridesmaids prepare for the wedding feast, and put oil in their lamps.  (No flashlights back then, I guess.) They all filled their lamps, and some also brought extra oil.  (vv. 2-4)
  • But wait! There’s a twist!  The groom is delayed.  It grows late, and all ten bridesmaids fall asleep.  (V. 5)
  • When the groom finally arrives, some of the girls’ lamps are almost out of oil, but some have their extra flask of oil.  (vv. 6-8)
  • There is drama. (vv. 9-10a)
  • The groom and the prepared bridesmaids (and we assume the bride) go off to the wedding, and shut the door.  (v. 10b)
  • Now for the sad part. When the foolish girls finally return, they are denied entry.  The groom even says that he doesn’t know them!  (vv. 11-12)
  • Jesus gives us the moral of the story in verse 13:  “Keep awake… for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  The odd thing here is that all 10 fell asleep, yet Jesus’ point is to keep awake.  I do see that the winners in the story were prepared.  Maybe “be prepared” is also a good point.


The point here is that nobody knows when Jesus will return.  Paul had a pretty good idea, and he was very incorrect.  Since nobody knows, we must be vigilant and prepared.


My favorite bumper sticker:  “Jesus is coming.  Look busy!”  I know this was intended to be funny, but there’s truth in it.  Just make sure that you don’t just “look” busy, but are genuinely engaged in doing his work.

A famous Christian theologian was playing croquet with some of his students. (This is a very old story.)  The teacher asked the question, what they would do if Jesus were to return tomorrow.  One said that he would leave immediately, and make peace with his brother. Another said that he would quit the game, and do good works.  When they asked the teacher what he would do, he said that he would continue playing the game.  The point is that we should have already made peace with our brother, and should already be doing good works.  We should be at peace, knowing that we are totally ready.

If you knew that Jesus would return to earth sometime this week, what would you do differently?  Why aren’t you doing that now?


For Oct 29, 2023

NOTE:  I am going to change the order, putting the gospel reading second, and the reading from Romans last.  The reading from Romans is a fitting way to finish this week’s study.

JEREMIAH 31:31-34


The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel lived about the same timeframe.  Ezekiel was deported to Babylon along with many other Judeans.  Jeremiah remained in Jerusalem, tending to the spiritual needs of those remaining.  If they were alive today, they would be communicating by email and having Zoom meetings on a regular basis.  Back then, however, communication was quite a bit slower.  But remarkably, their message to the people of God was very similar, as we will see.  After all, they were both God’s spokesmen; the source of the message was the same. Today’s passage from Jeremiah comes from his “Book of Consolation” that we discussed last week.  It is a message of hope and renewal. 


  • Jeremiah assures the people in exile, both from Israel and Judah, that better days are coming.  God will make a new covenant with his people.  It won’t be like the old covenant.  They broke that one many, many times.  Time for something new. (vv. 31-32)
  • This new covenant won’t just be written down in a temple somewhere, it will be written on the hearts of the people.  There will be an intimate relationship between God and his people. (v. 33)
  • We won’t have to learn things about God anymore, because all of us will know it all!  (vv. 34-35a)
  • Best of all, God will not only forgive our sins, but He will forget all about them.  (v. 35b)



The word “covenant” and “testament” mean the same thing. It is easy to conclude that God’s “New Covenant (Testament)” is realized in the life, death, and resurrection of his son Jesus.  Is this what it meant to Jeremiah’s listeners, or did it mean something else to them?  The short answers are no and yes.  Can it be both?  Maybe!


The people of Jeremiah’s time had troubles of their own.  Jerusalem and it’s society was ripped apart by foreign pagans.  It was a time of desperation and hopelessness.  God had not yet put forth the idea of a Messiah. Instead, Jeremiah’s message from God was that God wanted to have a close-knit relationship with them.  God was not interested in worship, at least when it was not from the heart.  Ezekiel 36:24-28 gives the people under Ezekiel’s care the same message.  God wants an intimate, loving relationship.  The message is the same in that passage and this one—Israel and Judah will be restored one day.  When they are, God’s law will be written on everyone’s hearts. Sins will be forgiven and forgotten.


Centuries later, God sent His only son to walk the earth with us.   Jesus taught us his Father’s will, when he spoke his Sermon on the Mount, and when he taught us parables about the kingdom of God.  Then, he died for our sins.  So, the life of God’s son was the final chapter in Jeremiah’s prophecy. Jeremiah most certainly did not know that part of the story.  But he most certainly knew the hope and promise that God gave his people in captivity.


It is one thing to forgive someone for what they have done.  It is quite another to forever forget about it.  God promises to both forgive our sins and forget them!  We receive this free gift because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  Now, we must not only forgive those who wrong us, but forget about it as well. 


JOHN 8:31-36


Today’s reading comes from the gospel of John. At this point in the story, Jesus had been gathering disciples, and teaching those around him.  Teaching and clarifying God’s will for the people was one of Jesus’ main missions.  For the most part, Jesus taught to the Jews.  Jesus and the twelve apostles were Jews.  He did, of course, occasionally reach out to the Gentiles, but most of his ministry was to his fellow Jews.  In the gospels, “the Jews” often refers to those who resisted or challenged him. In today’s reading, however, it refers to some followers of Jesus.


  • Jesus makes a statement to start a discussion.  He is teaching “the Jews who had believed in him”.  This could have been the twelve apostles or others.  John does not specify.  It doesn’t matter, so he leaves that out.  John was like that.  (See John 21:25.)  Jesus tells them that if they “continue in his word, they will be free”.  (vv. 31-32)
  • The disciples immediately think that Jesus is talking about slavery (which he is, sort of).  Slavery was commonplace at that time; about 40% of the population were slaves.  The disciples state that they have never been slaves, since they are the descendants of Abraham.  I guess they forgot about Egypt and that the Romans had conquered them.  (v. 33)
  • Next, Jesus drives his point home.  We are all slaves—to sin.  But the good news is that if we “continue in his word” (from verse 32), we are set free from the slavery of sin. (vv. 34-36)


For those of us who love and follow Jesus, we are freed of the sin that enslaves us.  We are truly free to be Children of God!


ROMANS 3:19-28

I am also going to change the order on this reading from Romans.  There is a lot of nitty-gritty detail in this passage.  If you don’t want to wade into the “deep water”, you can just go to The Takeaway.  I’ll put the detailed explanation after the takeaway, for those who want to take a deeper dive.


I like to read the first three chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans as one big unit.  You could skip the greeting, and begin with 1:16.  Keep in mind that the church in Rome was made up of both Jewish and Gentile Christians.  One thing I like to do is substitute two words for words in the text.  When Paul says “Jews”, I substitute my church denomination.  When he says “Greeks”, I substitute another denomination.  This makes it more real; and it is closer to what Paul was trying to say.

Anyway, in the first three chapters of Romans, Paul presents a panoramic view of the sinfulness of mankind.  He starts with pagan idol worship, but slowly turns the gun around, aiming squarely at the Jews and Greeks.   There’s no escaping it—we are all a sorry, sinful lot.


Verses 23 and 24 are at the heart of this passage. Paul makes his two main points:

  1. Everyone has sinned, and do not measure up to God’s expectations.
  2. For those who have faith in Jesus, our sins are forgiven*.

This gift of forgiveness is free to those who have faith in Jesus.  Later in Paul’s letter, he uses the phrase “free gift” often.  (5:15, 5:16, 5:17, 6:23)  All you need to “do” to claim your free gift is to believe in Jesus!

* The word “justification” in this context is a legal term.  When someone was accused of a crime, and was in court, they could explain why they did what they did.  If the judge believed that their actions were acceptable, he would claim that the defendant’s action was “justified”, and the charges would be dropped.


  • When Paul talks about “the law”, he referring to Jewish law.  You know, like the 10 commandments, and all the detailed laws in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.  Paul states here (and elsewhere) that the law is there to make us accountable—accountable to the point that we shut our mouths in guilt.  (vv. 19-20)
  • Paul now sets the law aside, and talks about what God has done for us (God’s righteousness).  In fact, all the prophets were like weathervanes, pointing to this righteous act. (v. 21)
  • The righteous act that we are talking about is the gift of God’s own son, for all who believe.  (v. 22)
  • Paul reminds us what he has just told us in the previous chapters—we have all sinned. Everyone.  (v. 23)
  •  The Good News is that by God’s grace, our actions have been “justified”/forgiven. It is God’s action that does this. It is a gift.  (v. 24)
  • During Paul’s time, and earlier, the high priest would make a blood sacrifice for the peoples’ sins.  God himself made a blood sacrifice of his son’s blood for our sin.  We, too, receive this atonement through faith in Jesus. (v. 25)
  • God did this to show that He is a righteous God.  He loves us so much that He did this for us.  (v. 26)
  • So, what have you got to brag about?  Can you brag that you are a Jew, or a Greek, or a Baptist or a Lutheran? Can we brag about being good or doing good deeds?  Paul emphatically says “NO!”  God has all the bragging rights.  (v. 27)
  • Salvation comes not from keeping God’s rules, but by living our lives in faith. It is a free gift from our Father in heaven.  (v. 28)


When someone gives you a precious gift, how do you express your gratitude?  Should we not express more gratitude to God for his free gift of salvation?  How will you do this?

For October 22, 2023

ISAIAH 45:1-7


Israel was defeated by the Babylonians (now Iraq).  They were carted off to Babylon, where they were expected to assimilate into Babylonian life.  Sixty years passed.  Israel is incapable of fighting against the Babylonians, to regain their freedom; they appear to be doomed to never see the Promised Land again.  Cyrus II is the king of Persia (now Iran).  He is poised to defeat the Babylonians, and release the captives.  Cyrus and Persia do not worship the Jewish god Yahweh.


  • Through Isaiah, God addresses Cyrus II, calling him “his anointed”.  That is the English word.  You know the Hebrew and Greek words, they are “messiah” and “Christ”.  This had to be an outrageous statement to god’s chosen people in exile.  How could a pagan king possibly be Yahweh’s “anointed”?  He doesn’t even know God’s name!  (v. 1)
  • God is going to make things easy for King Cyrus, paving the way, breaking down doors, and giving him treasures hidden away in secret places.  (vv. 2-3a)
  • The reason God is doing this is clear.  It is for the sake of his captive people, who he lovingly calls “Jacob” in this text. This is good news for Israel, because they are not able to free themselves.  The shocking thing is that God calls upon a non-Hebrew to be his servant, His anointed one.  (vv. 3b-4)
  • The last paragraph is a proclamation that our Lord God Yahweh is the one and only god; there are none besides him.  (vv. 5-7)


Either we or someone we know has been faced with an impossible situation, only to be saved from disaster. How did that happen?  People of faith believe that is by God’s loving hand. How has God surprised you in your faith walk? 



This letter from Paul to the church in Thessalonica is probably the oldest writing in the New Testament.  It was even written before any of the gospels were put to paper.  These are the opening lines to his letter.  It follows the typical format for most of his letters.


  • He begins by naming the senders & recipients of this letter, and then greeting them.  It was written by Paul, who included his two assistants’ names Silvanus (also known as Silas) and Timothy.  It is addressed to the people of the church in the Greek city of Thessalonica.  He greets them with a blessing of grace and peace.  (v. 1)
    • Grace, the free gift of God’s mercy and love.
    • Peace, in this case, is “shalom”; wholeness to life and completeness, more than a sense of calm.  If you have the first, the second follows.
  • In the second paragraph, Paul praises them for their work.  In particular, he praises them for their faith, hope, and love. These familiar words may also be found in 1 Corinthians 13, especially verse 13.  Besides these three words, latch onto the word “conviction” in verse 5. (vv. 2-5)
  • Paul is proud to say that in spite of persecution, they “became imitators of us [Paul, Silas, and Timothy] and of the Lord [Jesus]”.  It always strikes me odd and slightly conceited that Paul tells others to “just be like me!” I now believe that Paul was offering himself as a role model for those going through difficult times.  Jesus, of course, is the perfect role model.  But they had only heard stories about Jesus.  Paul and Silas were there in person.  (v. 6a)
  • We now learn more about that conviction.  Paul, Silas, and Timothy came to Thessalonica, taught, and brought many to Jesus.  Some leaders of the synagogue didn’t approve, and stirred up trouble.  There was persecution.  I recommend that you read Acts 17:1-9, to get the whole story.  But the point is that Jesus’ believers there were steadfast in their faith “in spite of persecution…”. (v. 6b)
  • This church’s evangelical work is so exemplary, that the news of it spread far and wide. (vv. 7-9)
  • Verse 10 is interesting, and worth explaining.  It is a reference to the Parousia, or Jesus second coming.  At the time this letter was written, only about 20 years after Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, Christians believed that Jesus return would be a little different than we now understand it.  They believed:
    • Jesus was returning very soon.  We now know that at least 2,000 years would transpire before this event.
    • When he returned, after a time of conflict, God would emerge triumphant over evil, and Jesus would reign on earth.  The “wrath that is coming” refers to this time of conflict.  Their beliefs on Jesus’ return were simple. Book of Revelation wasn’t written until about 50 years later.  The message is that they should remain faithful, knowing that God will make things right when Jesus returns.  That is actually what Revelation tells us, anyway.    (v. 10)


The Gentiles in Thessalonica left the religion of their families, and became Christians.  Imagine that!  What would it take for you to even change denominations, let alone religions? Their enthusiasm was so great, it caught on.  Others could see their energy and love, and wanted to be a part of that.


Do we display this level of enthusiasm to those around us?  Shouldn’t we? How do we make this happen?

MATTHEW 22:15-22


Jesus is nearing the end of his ministry.  He is in high gear, teaching through the use of parables.  More and more, he is annoying the Pharisees, the High Priest, and other leaders of the established religious organization.  He challenged their thinking, and they didn’t like it. It is good to remember that Jesus was also a Jew, as were almost all of his followers.  He was criticizing his own “church”.  (It really wasn’t called a church, but rather a synagogue.) Increasing, he is making enemies, and they are out to get him.

Also, this passage speaks of Herodians. Most Jews hated the Romans, and everything they stood for.  Herod, who was also a Jew, worked with Rome for his own personal gain both in political power as well as financial gain.  Herodians were Jews who supported Herod’s work.  In a sense, they were traitors to Israel.  But they were seizing the day, and reaping the benefits of supporting Herod and Rome.

NB:  Jesus is into politics here, and I’m afraid I am going to break one of my rules, and also talk politics.  I hope this does not offend.


  • The Pharisees were so upset with Jesus that they teamed up with the hated Herodians. Their hope was that between the two groups, they could set a trap and shame Jesus in front of his followers. (vv. 15-16a)
  • The start out by buttering him up in verse 16b. 
  • Jesus sees right through their ploy.  (v.18)
  • We all know the rest.  The coin is shown, and Jesus says the famous line “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 
  • Dumbfounded, they walk away. 
  • Jesus clever answer was perfect.  If he said “It is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor”, he would have been called a traitor to the Jewish cause.  If he had said it was not lawful, he would have been called a traitor to Rome.  He would have most certainly been reported to the authorities by the Herodians. 


Jesus won the battle, but what do we take away from this story?   

One thing it does not mean is that God is not interested in politics and governmental structures.  In Ezekiel 34, God rails on the religious and political leaders of the day.  (He calls them “shepherds” of his flock.)  They neglected the needs of his flock, and God was not happy with them. God is very interested in how the leaders care for his people.  He holds them accountable; he will judge them.  Many would like to say that this means that God is not interested in taxes.  But I don’t think that’s it, either.  Taxes can provide care for the poor, needy, widows, orphans, etc.  Good government, good “shepherds”, are doing the Lord’s work, if they tax from the abundance and care for the disadvantaged.  My takeaway is the last part of verse 21—“…and [give to] God the things that are God’s.” 

I also think about how Jesus challenged the thinking of the best people of faith in Judea—the Pharisees. 


  1.  What are “the things that are God’s”, that we should be giving?  Here are a few of my thoughts.
  • Is part of this “giving” ensuring that our elected government officials are genuinely concerned about the poor, needy, and disadvantaged?  These are God’s concerns; they should be ours as well.
  • Jesus showed compassion to the needy by healing the sick.  He also preached that we should share from our abundance. (“If you have two coats, give one away.”)  Since we are to be imitators of Christ, shouldn’t we heal the sick poor, by taxing the rich?
  • Part of this “giving” having a good sense of stewardship.  Realizing that everything we have is a gift from God.  Sharing and tithing, therefore, are simply giving back what was already His.  This holds true for individuals, organizations, and governments.  All are accountable to God.
  1. What would we do if Jesus returned, and challenged how we thought about God?  What if he told us that some of the things we were doing that we thought were godly did not please the Father?