The Seen and the Unseen

October 30, 2020

Tomorrow is Halloween, “Trick or Treat!”  How this holiday has evolved in my lifetime, and through out history!  Halloween is a story of how traditions grow:

  • May 13, 609 A. D. Pope Boniface dedicated the Partheon in Rome to honor Christian martyrs.
  • Pope Gregory III moved the celebration from May 13 to November 1,
  • Meanwhile in 43 A. D. the Roman Empire had conquered Celtic lands which included Ireland, England, parts of France and involved people of the Druid tradition.  For 400 years these cultures mixed.
  • Celts celebrated Samhain on November 1 by lighting big bonfires to scare away ghosts and the spirits of the dead.  The end of summer and the start of the dark, cold time of the year when people died was a “thin space” in time when spirits of the dead could cross over and pester the living.  It was during this time that Druid priests could make predictions about the future.  Costumes were worn to deceive spirits intent on harming those who hurt them in life.  Gifts were given to appease these spirits.

Even as we have included “tacos” into standard English and celebrate Cinco de Mayo and honor Muslim traditions, the Catholic traditions wove together with Celtic traditions to honor our departed, the harvest and the beginning of the cold season.  As Europeans migrated to the USA, so did their traditions and have evolved to what we have today.

  • In the late 1800s there was a movement in the USA to mold Halloween away from the focus on appeasing the dead to a more communal experience with community activity – parties, parades, movies to watch are all common now as we try to avoid vandalism or Covid today.
  • Many other aspects of Halloween have interesting stories of origin – witches on brooms or candy corn.

Halloween touches our deep beliefs about the seen and the unseen world and how they relate.  Those beliefs and superstitions are woven together with social traditions and economic practices that permeate our culture.       “Christ Alone” is the foundational assurance that it is only through Christ, and not through the saints, that our salvation is determined.  Saints, living and dead, are important to our spiritual life and support us but it is through Christ that salvation and eternal life is given.  We believe as read in Ephesians 2:8 and 9 that it is a gift given to us not because of works we do to treat departed spirits or improve life for the living, but salvation comes through faith, through relationship to the eternal God through faith as a gift.  Our good works spring from that foundation.  They do not earn salvation.

         Halloween traditions will look a different this year because of Covid but the sales of candy will tempt us dieters, scary movies with entertain the interested, and pumpkins will call forth our creative talents.  Some things change and grow with history but the truth of Christ Alone is a rock we can build our life on.  Blessings as you celebrate.


October 29, 2020

Today many people are gathering for prayer for the persecuted church, for the political turmoil predicted with the elections, and for the many whose lives have been impacted by Covid 19.  Three friends tested positive this week, one being the husband of a friend I spent time with Monday.  The future feels heavy.  I turned to Psalms today for comfort in the face of an uncontrollable future – by me anyway.  Psalm 29 for Oct 29 is a Psalm by King David.  “Ascribe to the Lord, O mighty ones, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength (v. 1).”  David continues and praises using what seems to me a mighty storm sweeping across the land, the seas, the forests, and the deserts, complete with lightning, power, destruction, impacting the shape of all in its path.

         “Ascribe,” reminds me that my focus on the events upending my life affects how I see life.  Am I a victim of human environmental irresponsibility or am I part of the story of a mighty God who is more powerful than the extremes of nature?  I have a choice whether I understand my life story as “victim” or as “hero”, child of God in his hand.

         Christ Alone reminds me that my life is in the hands of God.  Doctors prescribe, friends comfort, and enemies seek to destroy but only God can add length and texture.  It is he who “gives strength to his people (v.11).”  The disciples were out on the Sea of Galilee, having rowed all night and caught in a storm.  They saw Jesus coming, walking on the water and Peter said, “IF”, if you are God tell me to walk on the waves.  Peter walks and flounders when he starts looking at the wind and loses focus on Christ Alone.  Jesus does not abandon him to drown but reaches out and lifts him up.

         I do not know what storm you are trying to walk in today or perhaps what praise you are offering for having weathered a storm, but let us “ascribe” to the God who is over all, might and strong, the praise he is due and turn our eyes to him.  Blessings.


October 28, 2020

A story of opposites. Matthew, Mark and Luke all were impressed by the same event.  Jairus, a ruler in a synagogue, comes to Jesus because his 12 year old daughter is close to death, “Help!”  On the way to the house an unnamed woman who has been bleeding for 12 years, hence “unclean,” reaches out and touches the hem of Jesus’ garment and is healed.  We have the events involving two people with many observers.  One is named and important and one is unnamed and outcast, unclean.  One is male with access to power while the other is female and avoidable.  Both are at the end of their ropes and desperate.  Perhaps the ruler had tried the sacrificial system when his daughter first became ill and perhaps he had contacted the priests to come but we do not know.  We do know that the woman had spent all her money on doctors who could not cure.  Both turn to “Christ Alone” as their hope and salvation from situations leading to death.

         I share the story because it exemplifies Luther’s point of Sola Cristus, only through Christ do we have direct access to God for salvation.  The two people did not receive healing because of their good lives.  That’s not mentioned.  They were not healed in response to gifts to the temple, because of gender, because of wealth but only because they turned to Christ. 

         So what about prayer?  When I ask friends to pray for me or saints, is that not helpful?  When we have lots of people praying about the politics of our country, about the salvation of the lost, or about any issue, does it not help?  The subtle assumption is that the more the merrier.  More wealth means more happiness.  More doctors opinions means more clarity on the path ahead.  More prayers means more power.  More smearing of the other candidate means more votes for me.  Popularity moves mountains but in this scenario, the woman is outcast.

         I had fraternal twin boys.  As they grew we went through phases. 
“Might makes right” and I’m stronger than you so…   “Height makes right” and I’m taller so….  Chronology makes right and I’m 20 minutes older….  Sola Cristus reminds us that God makes right because he is wise and he is powerful.  I am not saved by my popularity or goodness but by his grace through my faith.  Jairus and the woman did not receive help because of who they were but because of who Jesus is and their faith in him.

         Perhaps today your concern is the World Series.  Who will win? Perhaps you are concerned about the political outcome and the future after the elections.  How will I handle health care, or, or, or…?  Perhaps you or a loved one is struggling with the virus or another health issue.  We cry out with Jairus and the woman who was bleeding, “Help!”  He holds our lives.  He hears.  He cares.  Thank you Lord.  Blessings.

Tasty Kool-Aid

October 27, 2020

“Mom, you drink your Kool-Aid and I’ll drink mine.”  Youth often throw this quip at parents to affirm the realization that the parent sees an issue one way but to remind the parent that there are other points of view.  Sola Cristus spoke into the different ideas in the Middle-Ages, and today, on how a person accesses the spiritual world.  Must we take our chicken to the median and sacrifice to gain the healing we so desperately need?  Perhaps if we do penance and pray without ceasing, we can purify our souls and understand the divine.  Giving bribes often opens doors and giving to the church might impress God with our sincerity.  So many flavors of Kool-Aid.

         One of the most common responses to the overwhelming confusion of modern day pluralism, the multiple options of ways to approach the divine, is to adopt the philosophy – God is good and I try to be nice to everyone so God will decide.  It is a kind of passive fatalism, trusting in my efforts to do the best I can.  Christ Alone shifts the emphasis from my efforts to Christ’s work, from human mediators to a heavenly representative.  Jesus told a parable of two men building a house.  One built on sand and one built on rock.  When the rains came, the trials of life came, the house on the sand washed away.  Both men built.  Both men built houses.  Their expertise is not in question nor their character.  The issue is the foundation.  Relationship with God is the issue, not correct theology, not correct behavior. 

         Edward Mote, a Baptist preacher, in 1834 wrote the beloved hymn, On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand based on parable of the two builders. That was the only song he ever wrote.  He came from an unchurched home and an ordinary trade to become a beloved pastor. May we ponder the foundations of our faith today as we face a world demanding so many things to make the “good life,” the tasty Kool-Aid.

Systemic Evil

October 26, 2020

“All roads lead to Rome,” so the saying goes that originated in the Middle Ages.  There is some truth in the saying as roads radiated out of Rome all through Italy and Europe.  Additionally, researchers found that there are ten cities called Rome in the USA and there is a Rome on every continent.  That’s a popular city name.  The saying, though, is a way of saying that there are many routes to a given goal.  Choice permeates our thinking.

         We have looked at “scripture alone,” “faith alone,” and “grace alone” during October.  This week we will look at “Christ Alone.”  A rather generalization would be that at the time of Luther, European Christianity was dominated by the Roman Catholic church and there were not Protestant denominations.  People did not “choose” if and where to go to church on Sunday morning.  All roads led to Rome as there was only one accepted road.  A local priest was called for life’s transitions like birth, weddings, deaths, and illness.  So what was the problem?  The worldview at the time was hierarchical, meaning that grace was dispensed by the more powerful to the less powerful.  There was a system going from the Pope to cardinals to bishops to priests to husbands to wives.  One appeased all the layers above oneself to find peace.  It is hard for us to imagine today.  We live in a world much closer to the pluralistic New Testament world of Paul.

     Does it matter, really, as we all live within systems?  For Luther, “systemic evil” was as big a reality as that term congers up today.  The systemic evil did not involve job inequality, gender bias, ethnic profiling which probably all existed but Luther focused on the control and manipulation of the ordinary person through religious doctrines about eternal life.  God was distant, at the top of a long list of authorities.  Luther famously struggled with a belief in a distant, angry God who had to be appeased by ritual, by penance, by indulgences.  Luther read 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”  Through relationship with Jesus Christ, the ordinary person could go directly through prayer to God, could himself read and interpret Scripture, and could come to the sacraments without a penance system.  It was a revolutionary change in thinking that challenged an existing power system.

         As we go to the polls next week, we are aware of all the cries about systemic evil in our world and the swirl of debate about how to deal with the resulting problems.  We are reminded that we live in the Kingdom of this World that is corrupt, is powerful, and bias.  The Christian faces that systemic evil armed with the belief that there is direct access to a God who cares about all, listens to all, values all and fights for all in the Kingdom of Heaven.  It’s hard to grasp with our human minds as our bodies face trials but each of us has a mediator and can call on God in Christ’s name.  Thank you.  Blessings as you face your challenges today.  You are not alone.

Who am I?

October 24, 2020

We started the week of Sola Gratia, grace alone, with the song “Amazing Grace” by John Newton, the former slave trader turned preacher in the 1700s.  “Amazing grace!  How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!  I once was lost but now am found; was blind but now I see.”  People still love that song and sing it in times of distress as we acknowledge our helplessness and need for a God to come to us.

         I would like to end this week of reflections with a modern day hymn by Casting Crowns.  Who Am I”,


“Who am I, that the lord of all the earth, Would care to know my name, Would care to feel my hurt?
Who am I, that the bright and morning star, Would choose to light the way, For my ever wandering heart?

Not because of who I am, But because of what you’ve done, Not because of what I’ve done, But because of who you are

I am a flower quickly fading, Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean, A vapor in the wind
Still you hear me when I’m calling
Lord, you catch me when I’m falling
And you’ve told me who I am, I am yours.

Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin, Would look on me with love
And watch me rise again?
Who am I, that the voice that calmed the sea, Would call out through the rain, And calm the storm in me?

Not because of who I am, But because of what you’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done, But because of who you are

I am a flower quickly fading, Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean, A vapor in the wind
Still you hear me when I’m calling
Lord, you catch me when I’m falling, And you’ve told me who I am
I am yours

Not because of who I am, But because of what you’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done, But because of who you are

I am a flower quickly fading, Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean, A vapor in the wind
Still you hear me when I’m calling
Lord, you catch me when I’m falling, And you’ve told me who I am
I am yours, I am yours, I am yours
Whom shall I fear, whom shall I fear? ‘Cause I am yours, I am yours”

The song writer Mark Hall was driving through Alabama one day and suddenly realized, had an “aha” moment.  He, a sinful human could talk to the God of the universe because of God’s grace!  We believe in a God who invites us into relationship with him through faith, and not because of who we are.  It is a gift and not because of our works.  Praise to him.  May you live in that awareness today that your heavenly cell phone is always charged!  Blessings.

Attitude of Gratitude

October 23, 2020

“Attitude of gratitude” is a cliché we hear and perhaps a gauge for measuring our responses.  As we face the elections, there may be gratitude for a fine opponents that forces someone to define themselves more clearly but often the gratitude is masked by the competition.  Halloween is coming next week and we are creatively thinking of ways to show gratitude for our children.  Thanksgiving is the big holiday in November when we remember with gratitude those who helped us come thus far.  We gather in families, share food and fellowship, even in the midst of disease.  Gratitude is a word with the same root as “grace,” receiving a blessing that perhaps is undeserved and often under appreciated.  I suspect grace appears in the face of trials. It makes me think of James, that we just studied, telling us to consider it joy when we encounter trials for at those times we grow, develop perseverance and cry out to God for wisdom.

         One of the big stories in the New Testament is the story of Saul, a focused defender of his faith, searching out heretics for death.  Traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus in the early days of Christianity, he encounters a bright light, is blinded, and hears the voice of Jesus, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  Meanwhile in Damascus, Ananais, an obedient follower of “the Way” is in prayer.  One man persecuting while one man prays.  Both trying to be obedient.  God steps into both lives, confronting one about his misdirection and presenting the other with a frightening task, talk to Saul the persecutor.  Neither man is particularly encountered because of their wonderfulness and yet God graciously steps into both lives and history is changed.  Saul could have continued in his hate.  Ananais could have clung to fear.  But both responded to God’s initiative in their lives.

         “Grace Alone” is the reformation tenant that we have a God who comes to us in our sinfulness, in our blindness, in our everyday lives because that is his character, not because of our wonderfulness, or our good works.  We are saved by his grace.  So as we look out on our world of politics, disease, economic challenge, global tensions, environmental changes…and masking, may we reflect an attitude of gratitude where we find ourselves today for we are being accompanied by a God of grace who walks with us through the challenges to a better future.  Blessings.

Grace at PT

October 22, 2020

“What story in the Bible would come to your mind when you think about grace?” I asked my physical therapist yesterday.  She hails from abroad in childhood and is a Christian.  She often gives me some little biblical comment about persevering, ie with exercises, so I was curious what would come to her mind.  She thought and the story of Ruth came to her mind.

         During a time of drought in Bethlehem, Naomi fled with her husband and two sons to Moab.  Moab is ancient Palestine, now west-central Jordon.  Moab was named after Lot’s son by his daughter after the Sodom and Gomorrah flight.  Moab and Israel were not “kissing cousins” but often rivals.  Naomi and family found refuge there, raised their family, and the sons married.  But alas, father and two sons died, leaving Naomi and two daughter-in-laws destitute.  Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem that is now prospering and Ruth pleads to go with her.  Ruth’s words to Naomi are often recited at weddings, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you.  Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.  Your people will be my people and your God my God…”

         Interesting.  I asked my friend how that spoke to her of “grace”.  She reflected, Naomi did not have to allow Ruth to go with her as returning to Bethlehem with a “foreign” woman was probably not the first choice for a re-entry strategy.  Naomi including Ruth in her life story was an act of grace.  Grace is receiving an undeserved gift (God’s riches) at the other’s expense (at Christ’s expense).  Ruth not only went with Naomi but Naomi was the cultural broker to help Ruth fit in to her new home.  Ruth is befriended by Boaz as she goes to glean in the fields to prevent starvation and Boaz marries Ruth, the foreigner – more grace.  Ruth becomes the great grandmother of king David and is listed in the lineage of Jesus.  GRACE.

         As we reflect on our life journey, like Ruth and Naomi, there have been the ups and downs, the famines and the weddings.  At the moment we may not understand the turn of events but as we look back and the pieces fall in place, many of us realize it is Grace Alone that has led us, upheld us, and comforted us on our journey.  God deserves the credit.  Blessings, may you see his hand of grace.

Battle of the Gods

October 21, 2020

The battle of the Gods!  What moves a god into action?  Perhaps the god’s reputation is at stake. Moses reminds God that if the people of Israel die in the wilderness, the people of Egypt will think God led his people into the wilderness but then was powerless to guide and protect them.  Moses’ real plea was not to be abandon.  God acted.  Elijah, on the other hand, calls for a contest between his God and the gods, Baals, of Queen Jezebel.  On Mount Carmel it was one prophet facing 400 priests of Baal.  Which god would rain down fire from heaven and consume the animal sacrifice?  Baal did not respond to his priests but Jehovah did.  How we long to see a God who demonstrates that he is real, active, and responsive to his followers in this world.

         In our political arena today we are debating who can give us the good life, return a healthy environment, balance the budget, control global warming, and act meaningfully on the global political scene.  Those are huge arenas that I suspect fall under the domain of God. 

     Grace Alone challenges our suppositions of what leads God to act.  We believe it is not just to protect his name or demonstrate his power over the factors in our lives.  Each morning as I watch the sun rise, I am reminded that God cares about the people on the other side of the globe even as he cares about me.  His sun shines on the good and the bad.  When rain falls I remember his concern for the earth and for all the hungry, not just me.  When a sparrow flies by I marvel that the Bible reminds us that not one sparrow falls from the sky without his awareness and we are more valuable than they.

         Grace is the word we use to describe a God who acts not out of interest for himself but out of concern for us.  God did not need to prove to the Israelites or the Egyptians that he could lead his people.  God did not need to prove to the Baal worshippers that he was powerful.  But he did and we read about it so we can remember, we are saved by grace, by God’s actions, not by the wonderfulness of ourselves.  We do not earn salvation but receive it with both hands, open and facing up to heaven.  May we go to the polls with humility and may we remember who really controls our universe.  Blessings.


October 20, 2020

“Aha!” moments are few and far between.  The lights go on.  The truth dawns.  We suddenly see the answer to the issue we have been chewing on.  For Martin Luther who lived during the 1500s, at the time the printing press was invented, who studied one of the hand copied Bibles – in Latin!, the lights went on when he read Romans 5:8, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”  Sola gratia, grace alone.  God comes to me, dead in sin, unaware of him, and initiates relationship – not because of the wonderfulness of myself but because of the wonderfulness of him.

         I love to watch the TV serial, “Call the Midwives.”  About three times an episode some woman in the East side of London, in humble living circumstances, yells and screams as she delivers a baby, often at home.  Nothing fancy.  The midwives attend and are the cheerleaders. The man paces the floor in the other room.  Finally the baby appears and almost invariably the mother holds the little person and declares, “You’re beautiful!”  The man comes in and declares, “Perfect.”  The new, infant coos and we smile as all is right in the world for a few minutes.  Perhaps the parallel isn’t perfect but that idea of being totally unknown and undeveloped but loved for just being born gives some of the flavor of “grace alone.”  We are drawn into a world we need to learn to live in, with talents that need to be developed, and a family we need to get to know.

         Last week I shared about the paralyzed man who is lowered by friends into a house where Jesus is meeting the masses and Jesus heals him.  There is no indication that the man is a person of faith.  We know the friends believed and hoped Jesus would heal.  We know the leaders thought it a scandal that Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven.  Take up your mat and walk.” But in the story, Jesus initiates the healing.  Why?  Because that is the nature of God.

         So if God is willing, why is the world not perfect?  Perhaps we have no friends willing to brave the censure of the crowd, willing to dig through the ceiling of the room, or willing to bring people to Christ not knowing the outcome.  Perhaps we ourselves believe we are beyond help in our area of struggle be that addictions, defeated relationships, or overwhelming circumstances.  And it is true that bad things happen to good people.  God is not a magician to make my life work and to make me be happy.  God, by grace, because he cares, is willing to walk with us on our journey as we put our hand in his.  May we sense his presence and his grace initiating relationship with us today.  Blessings.