“Let the Whole Creation Cry,”

"Let the Whole Creation Cry," ELW 876

Let the whole creation cry,
"Glory to the Lord on high!"
Heav'n and earth, awake and sing,
"Praise to our almighty king!"
Praise God, angel hosts above,
ever bright and fair in love;
sun and moon, lift up your voice;
night and stars, in God rejoice.

Servants striving for the Lord,
prophets burning with the word,
those to whom the arts belong
add their voices to the song.
Pow'rs of knowledge and of law,
to the glorious circle draw;
all who work and all who wait,
sing, "The Lord is good and great!"

Men and women, young and old,
raise the anthem loud and bold,
and let children's happy hearts
in this worship take their parts;
from the north to southern pole
let the mighty chorus roll:
"Holy, Holy, Holy One;
glory be to God alone!"

As we near the day that will find us commemorating the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther's posting of his 95 Theses, it will likely be that we will find that everything seems to be Luther. So how far away in this mix can a hymn adapted and arranged by JS Bach be? The hymn writer, the original composer and JS Bach all serve an important role in this framework of praise. Each enables the creation to cry out in word and deed as well as in music and art.

Some have argued that "aesthetics" is the language of God, while others claim that role for "music." Strong affirmation here is directed both towards those who devote themselves to the visual arts and to music. In the second stanza Stepford Brooke writes: "Servants striving for the Lord, prophets burning with the Word, those to whom the arts belong, add their voices to the song." One can hear the glories mount as the whole creation employs its senses and cries aloud: "Glory to the Lord on high."

Lord God, it is to you that we devote our talents. Accept them, as together we praise your glorious name. Amen.

Crowns

Crowns
by Joni

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad."
2 Corinthians 5:10

Adults pooh-pooh the idea of rewards in heaven, but children don't. Like a student before his teacher, a child squirms in delight at the anticipation of a reward, much less a jeweled crown of his very own. Maybe that's why Jesus said that children were best fit for the kingdom of heaven.

The kid in me would love, just love a crown in heaven. What's the big deal about crowns? The Bible celebrates the crowning day in 2 Corinthians 5:10 and goes on to mention specific crowns.

The crown of life mentioned in James 1:12 is reserved for those who persevere under trials and withstand God's tests. The crown of rejoicing in 1 Thessalonians 2:19 is a reward for believers who introduce others to Christ. The incorruptible crown in 1 Corinthians 9:25 is for those who are found to be pure and blameless on the judgment day. And in 1 Peter 5:2-4 there's a special crown reserved for Christian leaders who have guided others - it even says that the Chief Shepherd Himself will present that crown.

But the child in me jumps up and down to think that I might be rewarded the crown talked about in 2 Timothy 4:8: "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing."

Heavenly crowns are not just rewards for a job well done on earth; crowns are a glorious consummation of the job itself.

How I love to hear You say, Lord, "Well done, good and faithful servant." What a reward that will be.

Blessings,

Lip Surgery

Lip Surgery
by Joni

"'Woe to me!' I cried. 'I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips.' Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, 'See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.'"
Isaiah 6:5-7

And I know of no greater sin of mine than my lips. My unholy thoughts, though many, are my private sins that affect only me. My unholy deeds, though heinous, are few and far between.

But my words are many and their damage is public. In a few short sentences, I can cut a baggage handler at the airport down to size for dropping my wheelchair. In a string of vexings and hammerings, I can skewer my husband's plans for the weekend. In a twisted maze of flatterings, I can manipulate any unsuspecting soul.

Oh, what a burden. To possess such an instrument is more than I can bear at times. But while the reality of my sinful lips depresses me, God corrects me with one important observation: "See, this has touched your lips."

For Isaiah, it was the burning coal used by God to drive home His point that outside intervention is needed. Through painful imagery of cauterized lips, Isaiah learned an important lesson. His lips were impure, but God touched them and declared them clean.

But that is not the end of it. God desired to use those lips. When asked, "Whom shall I send?" Isaiah had the righteous audacity to say, "Here am I. Send me."

Lord, purify my words by Your presence in my life. Remove the dross of selfishness and pride from these lips. Make them sing and speak of You all my days.

Blessings,

Matthew 22:15-22

Matthew 22:15-22
 
Has there been a common thread or theme for the readings this week? For me it has been the bold proclamations revealing the primacy of God. In Isaiah we read: "I am the Lord, and there is no other." In the psalm we read: "For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods." In First Thessalonians the writer remembers "how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God." And then in the gospel reading, Jesus declares that the primacy of God is both above and greater than any claims offered by Caesar.
 
In my own mind I have resolved the claims between God and Caesar. Where I find myself with a question in this multicultural world involves our claims for God against the claims being made for Allah, Buddha or by the Anamists. These encounters often find us standing face to face with others who make similar claims. TGIF--we've got the weekend to worry and wonder--or with a God so great is there need to worry or wonder at all?
 
Dear God, we ask for your promised presence as we work our way through this world. We believe to be created and sustained by your almighty power, Amen.
 
Chris
Matthew 22:15-22 (NRSV)
 
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.
16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.
17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?"
18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?
19 Show me the coin used for the tax." And they brought him a denarius.
20 Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?"
21 They answered, "The emperor's." Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's."
22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

I’d Never Do That!

I'd Never Do That!
by Joni

"So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!"
1 Corinthians 10:12

You'll never catch me doing that!" one might say. "Oh yeah?"

Upright and obedient, Noah stood alone against a carousing, lustful world that drank itself silly. Who would have thought Noah would end up drunk? Abraham was ready to push obedience to the point of sacrificing his only son. Who would imagine he would lie straight-faced?

Look at Lot standing against the filthiness of Sodom. Hardly does he get delivered from the city's destruction than he falls into incest. Who would have guessed? Bold and courageous David was brave enough to go up against Goliath, the warrior giant of the Philistines; later on he made believe that he was a madman for fear of his enemies.

Consider Elijah. We take him to be a rather brave man, wielding the sword of God's vengeance against tens of thousands. But the threat of one woman then sends him into suicidal despair. Peter, as part of the inner circle, followed the footsteps of Jesus closer than anyone. He ended up cursing and denying the Lord.

"These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come" (1 Corinthians 10:11).

Just when you think you know yourself, you do or say something that seems so out of character. But it's not. The character of our body of sin and death is to sin. Don't be surprised. Just be careful that you, too, don't fall.

Lord, please subdue my corruptions and grant me the grace to live above them. Make me realize that I could easily fall at any time. May I lean on Your grace to deliver me from the evil in my life, of which I'm not even aware.

Blessings,

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
 
How satisfying would you find it to be a member of a congregation where the pastoral team included Paul and Timothy? I'm guessing most of us would love hearing Paul or Timothy remind us how each day finds them taking time to remember us by name, seeking out our well-being. How inspiring to realize that as your pastors they are taking time to offer up thanks to God for your works of faith and your labors of love. Also, as members of this congregation Paul and Timothy would be reminding you how you have been "chosen by God and showered with the gospel in all of its dimensions and with full conviction."
 
How might you imagine yourself as you leave this place of congregational gathering? Thankfully we continue to have access to such places--congregations where we gather and find ourselves in the presence of pastors faithfully sharing these words of grace and peace.
 
Dear Jesus, thank you for revealing the gospel in all of its fullness and for raising up pastors willing and faithful in their proclamation of grace and peace. Amen.
 
 
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (NRSV)
 
1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
2 We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly
3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
4 For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you,
5 because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.
6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit,
7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it.
9 For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God,
10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

Know Your Transgressions

Know Your Transgressions
by Joni

"For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge."
Psalm 51:3-4

Some of my friends tell me I'm too hard on myself. They say I berate myself too much. But I know the truth. I know when I'm vying for attention or when I'm shading the truth or hiding the facts. I know when I'm deliberately ignoring the Spirit's direction. I know the times when I switch the subject to avoid my husband's scrutiny or when I turn my back in anger to punish him or make him feel guilty.

As the psalmist says, I know my transgressions. Sensitivity to one's sin is not a curse but a blessing. It's maturity to know the evil you are capable of, to realize the depths of your depravity. And to a sensitive conscience, pain on account of sin ought not to be an occasional thing but intense and permanent. Praise God if, like the psalmist, you are able to say, "My sin is always before me."

Mercy is defined as kindness in excess of what might be expected. And for the multitude of your sins, God has a multitude of mercies. Tender mercies they are, compassionate kindness far in excess of what you deserve. Where sins abound, grace abounds. To know your transgressions provides an opportunity to confess and receive abundant mercy, compassionate grace.

How sensitive are you to the sin in your life? Does your Spirit-sharpened conscience warn you when you shade the truth? Do red flags wave when you backbite with gossip? Know your transgressions, for when you do, His tender mercies are there to forgive.

Father, make me aware of every sin, hidden and exposed. And thank You for Your tender mercy that forgives.

Blessings,

Psalm 96:1-9

Psalm 96:1-9
 
On a recent trip to St. Louis with stops along the way at zoos in Milwaukee and Chicago, our 10 year old grandson surprised us with his knowledge of the animal kingdom, especially his favorite, the tiger. In a game of recall that I no longer am able to recall, I remember the fun we had over the armadillo. I devised a memory aid for myself by focusing on "dillo" as my aid for the letter A. I asked our grandson if he knew what happens when you give a gun to a "dillo." The answer: You "arm-a-dillo". With such banter we proceeded to tick off the miles driven, nearly 600 in all.
 
As three travelers with miles together, we created a variety of ways to pass the time. Time was ours. We needed an activity. Today's reading combines both time and activity. For the psalmist, time is the given. The question that begs an answer: what will we do with this gift of time? Over and over we are encouraged to offer songs of praise. Reading, sharing, yes, even singing psalms are a wonder-filled way of using the time that washes over us anew each day. Better than "arming a dillo" would be to "sing to the Lord a new song."
 
Lord God, author of time, help us actualize this gift in ways that bring glory and praise to your name. Amen.
 
Chris
Psalm 96:1-9(10-13) (NRSV)
 
1 O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.
4 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.
6 Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
7 Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
8 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.
9 Worship the Lord in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.
10 Say among the nations, "The Lord is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity."
11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12 let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13 before the Lord; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.

The Day of Evil

The Day of Evil
by Joni

"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."
Ephesians 6:13-17

When exactly is the day of evil talked about in this verse? Is it some great and terrible day of the Lord yet to break on the horizon? Is it the day when the Antichrist is revealed, ushering in a great tribulation?

No. The day of evil is when you feel like dropping the shield of faith, unbuckling your breastplate of righteousness, kicking off the shoes of the gospel of peace, and throwing down the sword of the Spirit. This is the evil day.

You don't need a great tribulation to feel you're under attack. For you, the evil day may come when your reputation gets dragged through the mud or when the dog tracks dog-doo all over the kitchen floor and carpet in the hall. The evil day may happen when your pot roast turns to charcoal in the oven while you referee a fight between a few members of your family.

What are we to do on the evil day? Read again our verses for the day and you'll discover that in the span of a few sentences, the word "stand" occurs at least three times. Stand firm in the Lord!

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes" (Ephesians 6:10-11). Lord, I take to heart this verse today. Dress me in Your armor.

Blessings,

You Are an Eagle

You Are an Eagle
by Joni

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
1 Peter 2:9-10

Once there was an eagle who didn't act at all like the great, proud bird he was born to be. This was an eagle who lived among chickens in a henhouse and a covered coop. He could be seen every morning scratching the dirt for bits of grain and pecking at the cobs of corn the farmer threw to him and the rest of the chickens. The eagle's eyes were as dull as his feathers. He was one sad bird.

One day, a passerby who felt sorry for the eagle entered the cage, grasped the bird with both hands, and carried him to the top of a nearby mountain. A sweeping spectacle of rugged peaks, turquoise lakes, and pine forests stretched before them. The heart of the great eagle began to pound in the man's grasp.

The eagle's eyes focused on the glacier-scarred mountains and deep cliffs. He lifted his head, breathing in the icy air and cool, fresh scent of alpine flowers. Feeling the bird's struggling, the man lifted the eagle up and ... let him go! The bird stretched his wings and soared across the valley until he was a tiny speck against the distant mountains.

The eagle had realized his destiny.

And you, as a Christian, must realize yours.

I have to confess, Lord, that sometimes I act like an eagle in a chicken coop. But I am a child of God! May I realize my destiny as I focus on the immense wonder of eternity and breathe in celestial air.

Blessings,