You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
1 John 4:19
We love because he first loved us.
Words of Grace For Today
You shall … and no matter how hard we try, we simply cannot all the time do what God says we shall … even when it comes to love and especially not when it comes to loving God, yet alone loving God with all our heart, soul, and might.
because God loves us first, therefore we are able (by Grace alone) to love our neighbours as ourselves, our enemies, and always God.
Loving gives our otherwise meaningless lives purpose and joy … and always brings us pain and sorrow, too.
That’s the colour of love that God gives us, and enables us to live out in our lives, all our days on this wonderful, if lately kind of wild, planet. It’s a full rainbow of colours, even the empty colours of a void … that God gives us and fills with our living in God’s presence.
See now, I am for you; I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown.
We too are God’s offspring.
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard
Words of Grace For Today
I always enjoy the biblical humour: the good news Ezekiel shares is that God is for the people, and they are compared to the dirt of the earth that is tilled and sown in order that something good will grow from it.
The people are, in this metaphor, nothing, just dirt to be trod upon … until God chooses to use them, to turn them over with the plow, to put something good into them that will grow, taking nutrients from their useless dirt, in order to produce food that will sustain others in life. And yet they, though useful to God’s project of providing food for others, and though God is with them, … they remain still dirt.
God turns to them, and they are tilled and sown.
So it is with us.
The dirt of the earth are we, and yet God uses us, tills us with the plow turning us over into something that lays bare the darkness of us, and then God puts good seeds in us, they grow, and food is produce for others, and we remain only dirt, the dirt of the earth. In this metaphor if we become or are and remain the salt of the earth, nothing will grow in us, and others will have no food. Best we are simply dirt, so that others may live.
This we are, the dirt of the earth. Still God claims us as offspring, as God’s own children. Is it really a jump to a completely different metaphor. Yes, but no not really.
God’s children are only something special and good for the rest of creation because God makes it so. God’s children are saints … only because God makes us saints. We remain stains on the face of creation, sinful stains, even as God makes us saints.
The real story is that out of such dirt and such stains God demonstrates everything about God’s love for us: God makes saints out of stains, out of sinners, out of dirty old dirt. That is God’s miraculous work, that God can make saints out of us.
It may seem humorous to be compared to dirt as Ezekiel pronounces God’s blessing of turning toward us, humorous for the unexpected impossible comparison … but then that is what God does all the time. God surprises us with the unexpected.
God blesses us and claims us as God’s own children … though we certainly do not deserve it.
Now what are we going to do with this unexpected blessing, this daily unexpected, life-giving, astounding blessing!? What else other than to share it with as many people, especially those the world would call unfit, unacceptable, incapable of being a blessing for anyone.
God calls for workers, to care for the vineyard, to bring in the harvest, and make the wine. That’s us, dirt, children, and workers.
My eyes are awake before each watch of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
Words of Grace For Today
Tina was beside herself, as Arnold insisted again she had to tell her ex to stop asking the church to pray for his brother would had a rare and deadly form of cancer. Though she had no inkling how terrible it would become she felt everything was taken from her already. This was unbelievable. Arnold had done everything possible to drive her ex from town, and to erase all traces or mention of him, and now it included the mere mention of his brother’s name in the bulletin, even when Arnold refused to go to church.
It was just last year, when for months as she volunteered to care for Arnold’s neglected children, he had given her very kind attention and then focused attention, and then long conversations after she put the children to bed with tea and his oldest son sitting with them. Then his son no longer was around for the late night tea conversations. He volunteered to help her with a difficult project she had building a fence to hold her goat and dog who ran after cars. He displayed his strength and eagerness to help her out, though he did bring the children along and left them with Tina’s husband who was working writing to a deadline. The children, grieving their mother who’d killed herself just a year ago, were out of control, playing and fighting, making writing impossible for her husband.
The turning point came when Tina was out working on the fence with her daughter and a friend, who knew Arnold all too well. He texted her a brief and desperate message that as he was returning from a counselling session in a town 2 hours away, he’d collapsed at the wheel, pulled over where the cell reception was poor to nil and had called 911. The message was cryptic. At first Tina ignore it and went back to work on the fence. Then it sunk in, if Arnold texted her he must have no one else to ask for help. He had given her his wife’s set of keys for everything, with even the safety deposit box key on it. Tina stopped the fence work and started driving. She called 911 and was told that Arnold’s car was parked off the road, but it should be picked up as soon as possible, and that he had been taken to the nearest hospital, which was closer than where his car was parked.
Tina stopped at that hospital to let Arnold know she would get his car with the keys he’d given her. Instead Arnold wanted her to take him home. So she did. She and her husband returned later that day to retrieve his car. Tina had become Arnold’s only confidant and person to call in an emergency.
In the next month’s Arnold found every situation possible to be with Tina, to help her, to ask for help from her. He was romancing her. And it worked. They started a sexual affair, though the emotional affair was in full swing months before. Arnold was charming, too charming. Tina dismissed as survivor’s guilt his confession that he’d driven his wife to kill herself. He begged her not to just have an affair with him, and they planned to get married after Tina divorced her husband.
It had seemed so wonderful, Arnold telling her in every text 20 times a day that he loved her. Her husband had long since taken her for granted and said very little that was romantic. Everything was work for him. She’d always come in second to his work, but he was kind and they loved each other in simple and profound ways that had worked for them for 24 years and two children who were grown up.
After she moved in though it was challenging at first. Arnold wanted to rewrite their history, insisting that Tina and her husband’s marriage was completely broken, that Arnold had not caused their divorce. He tried to get Tina to say things that simply were not true. She danced around the issue as much as she could. Then Arnold insisted that her husband had brought her to town this past year just to get rid of her to him, the new widower. A bit later Arnold insisted that Tina’s husband was doing things that Tina knew he’d simply not bother to do, things that were unkind to other people he worked with. Soon Arnold started telling made up things about others that he worked with, that he’d known through his wife. The stories were ugly. He had lots of stories of being abused by his wife. Tina was sympathetic, not knowing how much was Arnold’s making up lies about others to cover terrible things he’d done.
Right away Arnold started to isolate Tina from her friends, her extended family, and then from her own children, and her ex-husband. Then he made her call her ex and tell him to stop having the church pray for his brother or someone would get hurt.
Then within months Arnold started to tell stories to Tina about Tina herself, things that Tina had supposedly done that she knew she had not done, or did she, it was hard to know anything anymore with all the things that Arnold told her about others and herself.
She started to hate herself for what she had ‘done’ that Arnold told her she’d done, or for how terrible she dressed, or how she did not take care of the home correctly. It was always something, something small. Together though it was too much to bear. She turned to counsellors for help. All of them were of little help. She turned to her doctor who was also Arnold’s doctor. The doctor kept prescribing more and more medications that had side effects that required more medications and treatments and even a breathing machine for nights. Night sweats started to drench Tina each night. She was tired all the time. She lost 60 pounds in two months. She tried to read and could not focus. It was a living hell. Always Arnold was there to tell her she was not doing things correctly. She noticed that when Arnold did something wrong he often blamed her as if she had done it. But he loved her, so he would not do that would he? She told herself it was her fault or he was grieving the death of his first wife. When her divorce was finalized Arnold refused to plan a wedding. He just promised that it would be just like they were married.
Tina planned for months to finish this and that for Arnold and then she was going to kill herself. Arnold told such great stories about his first wife, even though she abused him! It was the only way Arnold would start to love Tina.
The planned day was coming up that week, but Arnold laid into Tina and she moved her plans ahead to that day. She bought a bottle of alcohol, and later that night after the kids were put to bed, she took half the 38 sleeping pills left in her prescription bottle, sat in her truck in the drive (so as not to devalue the home as Arnold’s first wife had), locked the doors and drank the alcohol.
Fading in and out of consciousness Tina noted that one of the children found her, later that the oldest came and did little to help, then a friend of Arnold’s showed up, a mean conniving man. Finally Arnold showed up. He and his friend dragged Tina inside. On the couch the friend said they should just let Tina ‘sleep it off.’ But Arnold insisted they take her to the hospital. It was too late.
Too late to pump Tina’s stomach. She woke up three days later.
The doctor took her off the medication that Arnold had suggested she take, which had the possible side effect of making one suicidal. She was free!
Free of all the fatigue, the depression, the unrelenting anxiety. She was not free of Arnold’s abuse though. She did not recognize the abuse for what it was, yet. She struggled each time Arnold told her she was going to kill herself. He wanted her to try again, and succeed this time.
Each time Tina was beside herself, though she had no inkling how terrible it would still get.
She prayed each morning, each night, and many times each day. She called on God’s promise to be with her. She remembered that Mary had heard promises, and suffered terribly as her son was crucified. She worked to be a blessing, to recognize the blessing God gave her, that she had enjoyed for years and that she had survived her attempt to escape. Not even now was she free.
She knew she was immune to killing herself. She knew the dark whirlpool of darkness that had sunk down over her, and would again if she let it. She practised each time it showed up at resisting even the shadow of that darkness. She knew she was immune to killing herself. She told Arnold exactly that as many times as he accused her that she would kill herself, tried to drive her to it. She would survive but she had no idea what Arnold would do to her.
She pondered all the things she knew, and to this day cannot comprehend the cruelty of all the people Arnold convinced to do her harm, as if she were the one that was a threat to him! She still cannot believe the lies that Arnold told and tells; and the illness that he must suffer to be able to lie so and convince himself and others it may all be true, or at least true enough to have fun at her expense.
She pondered, and prayed, and held on to God’s promises. None of that would save her from the amassed cruelty that would be focused and dumped on her. So many people joined in the lies, knowing it all to be lies. They recorded their laughter, their fun, their lies, even the judges that convicted her. She had no idea how cruel people could be to a kind, loving, caring step-parent.
This also is the life God gives us, that people are free to choose to turn from God, from truth, from reality, and then to torture others trying to force them into exile or to death.
To counter the power of evil that is real and powerful against goodness and us in this life, we need to pray at each watch of the night, meditating on God’s promises so that we can treasure all God’s words and ponder them in our hearts each day.
Only by Grace can we survive the onslaught of evil that will be worked against us, like Tina and so many others, though perhaps in more or less obvious ways.
God promises us this Grace. Hang on to it, for our lives depend on it.
Do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof.
The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.
Words of Grace For Today
Wisdom is hard to come by.
For oneself and even harder to find in others, almost impossible to find in others who have power and position. Partiality and hypocrisy run rampant in humans, especially those who live with much whether that is power, position, wealth or possessions.
The wisdom that God would have us live out with our lives is not complicated, nor difficult to find, and it is not even rare to see (at least glimpses of it anyway.)
What is impossible is for us to live by it everyday in all circumstances.
An abundant life includes that we strive to live by this simple wisdom: God loves us, is gracious with us, forgives us, gives us renewed life and sends us to be all that for other people … not once or twice or a hundred or a thousand times, but without end. Because God is gracious to us without end we always have grace to give to others.
Getting to live this simple wisdom does not happen without God disciplining and reproofing us. Getting to live this simple wisdom brings us to receive and give peace, gentleness, mercy, and willingness to yield and to accept and produce good fruits of labour (God’s, God’s people for us, and ours for other people.)
Simple and impossible to live by … yet nothing is impossible for God, and for God to do with us for others.
It’s a wonderful, adventurous, and enthralling life, one that takes all our everything and returns to us more than we thought life could ever possibly provide … except God is the provider and the life is always more than we could imagine.
These are God’s gifts to us, for which we give thanks each morning, and each night.
The Thorns of Life to the Goodness God Intends for Us All
Then Abram said to Lot, ‘Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herders and my herders; for we are kindred.
Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour.
Words of Grace For Today
Tim’s father, in the movie About Time, has one line written for him that reflects a simple wisdom that many generations have discovered and passed on (from the umpteenth best man’s toast at Tim and Mary’s wedding):
We’re all quite similar in the end. We all get old and tell the same tales too many times. But try and marry someone kind.
When you marry, or you have relatives you did not choose, or friends you may or may not have chosen most everyone’s flaws and faults can be dealt with graciously … if both people are kind.
This is the quality of a relationship that one person in it cannot make up for in the other. One can try to forgive the lack of kindness, but eventually one will run out of energy and succumb in one way or another.
So the wisdom that Paul knew well and recommended to even strangers in a new (potential) congregation in Rome, and the wisdom that is carried for generations in the Abraham and Sarah stories is quite simple, basic, and essential to living abundantly: be kind.
In other words, show honour to each other, let there be no strife between you and your people and others, love one another with mutual affection.
Simple wisdom that is impossible to achieve at all if one is not well practised in being kind.
Being kind is a matter of choice … for a few times each day, but being kind always in all things to all people is impossible except by Grace the Holy Spirit inspires us to be like Christ for other people.
So we are kind … as we are able … and we pray that God will help us to be kind always …
that it may go well for us and our people in the land that God has promised us …
Praise the Lord! O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever.
Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Words of Grace For Today
Giving God thanks surely involves using our voices and God’s name, though when we use God’s name constantly in our communication with other people it is a grand misuse of God’s name, grace, and steadfast love.
Truly, in word and deed, doing everything in the name of our Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God is so much more than mere words of thanks, or constant mention of God’s name.
Giving God thanks is an attitude towards life that brings us to reflect God’s grace towards others.
It is to give of one’s self so that others will live, whether they accept and practice faith in Jesus Christ, or not, for all people are God’s creatures, God’s precious people, people God forgives.
Giving God thanks is to extend to all others the same grace that God first has given (and continually gives) to us.
More often than not it is to do it anonymously, so our names are not known or remembered, so that our God’s name is not known or remembered … rather that God’s grace towards us is experienced as God’s grace towards other people. We certainly are not to bring people to worship or adore us for our good deeds and gracious words. We certainly are not sent out into the world to bring people to worship a ‘small god’, a godlet of any kind even one they name Jesus.
There are enough people worshipping a godlet of some kind or another, and too often they call that godlet ‘Jesus’. It certainly is not.
The past president of Tanzania is one very visible example: Covid 19 hit and shut down country after country in Africa with restrictions and precautions. What did this ‘Lutheran Christian’ do? He prayed. Certainly good. Then he announced to the country that his ‘godlet’ ‘Jesus’ had cured all Tanzanians of Covid 19. There was to be no mention of any respiratory illness as Covid 19, though there were thousands of cases everywhere. His godlet Jesus caused the avoidable death and long term disability through Covid 19 (and long Covid 19) of thousands of Tanzanians. That kind of godlet, no matter what it is called, is certainly not the Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, healer of our every ill, the creator, redeemer and sanctifier of the universe and all people in it.
Small gods, godlets, are made up every day by so many people looking for a way through life’s challenges.
God walks with us, seeing all we do, and still God’s steadfast love endures for ever for us and all people.
Because God is gracious to us, therefore we can be gracious with all the deadly covidiots out there, and all the abusers, and all those with power who abuse it, and all those who thought (and those that still think) residential schools were acceptable, … and all the enemies of life abundant for all.
Treating the enemies of life abundant for all is how we give thanks to God, for God’s grace worked first for us.
Happy 90th Birthday Celebration Dort!
Very sorry we cannot cross the border to be there to celebrate with you.
Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
Words of Grace For Today
Jesus sends the disciples out into the world to share the Good News, that God has sent Jesus to demonstrate God’s love, forgiveness, grace, and favour bestowed on all peoples.
We are out in the world, now in a world that ‘does not need God’, has no room for God, and pretends that everything is fine (without God.) The Good News is needed more than ever before.
How is this sending by Jesus different than God ‘exiling’ the people of Israel to foreign cities, cut off from their homes? It is done by force, first of all, against the people’s will and established by the sword of a alien ruler, not of faith in God. When Jesus sends the disciples, they choose to follow Jesus and they choose to obey him as he sends them. The exiles are not able to travel ‘back home’. The are captives in the foreign city. The disciples go out and they return ‘home’ to follow Jesus as he goes about the Galilean countryside.
How is Jesus sending the disciples the same as God ‘exiling’ the people of Israel to foreign cities? The passage for today from Jeremiah provides the link: in both sendings God’s people are to seek the welfare of the places and cities where they go. The exiles are more permanent, perhaps life long, and even many generations long. Their well being is intricately tied to the well being of the cities to which they are exiled. The disciples bring nothing with them, so their welfare is tied to the welfare of the places they go as well. The difference for the disciples is that at some point they get to leave the welfare of the places the visit and reclaim the welfare of home as their own, perhaps … if the welfare at home is controlled by people who will welcome them home.
The passage from Matthew ties it together nicely: the quality of one’s life as a disciple of Jesus, as a person of God’s people is not determined by the prosperity of one’s surroundings. Rather one’s life is determined to be of the greatest quality because God has adopted us as children. No matter what comes our way we remain God’s children.
Like salt we do not change as the surroundings around us change. We remain salt.
The danger to our lives is not prosperity or poverty. Each we can deal with easily enough, poverty perhaps more easily than prosperity because in prosperity it is too easy to forget from where the goodness of life comes. We too easily attach goodness to the things of luxury and comfort, rather than to the essentials of life provided always by God’s goodness and grace. Soon we start to assume that we can make it well through life without God’s blessings, grace, forgiveness and guidance. In poverty we do struggle to remain alive, though there are few reasons to doubt that the goodness of life comes not from things, but from God, because so often without any goods or things to divert our attention from God’s blessings we immerse ourselves (in order for life to continue) in giving God thanks for all the goodness that pours over us each day.
We are God’s children. Simple and easy. Like salt it’s not complicated. Like salt too much stops life, but the right amount preserves sustenance through the sparsest of times.
When we lose our saltiness, our simple dependence on God for everything, and our ever present gratitude for everything, then we become useless. We lose grace and have no Good News to share. There is nothing left but to make up nonsense about life. We see so much of that, so much more than we could imagine civilization can endure and still survive.
To this saltiness-lost-world Jesus sends us with Good News.
To this saltiness-lost-world God exiles us to live out the Good News.
Wherever we are or go God walks with us, and guides us to share and hear anew the old, old story of Jesus and his love, for us and the whole of creation.
One step at a time today, again; not towards our goals, but towards God’s will for us.
Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as dust on the scales; see, he takes up the isles like fine dust.
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.’
Words of Grace For Today
Wonders upon wonders stare us in the face each morning, noon, and night:
The universe is a great and expansive place. It is a great thing to wonder about: How did it come to exist? Where does it extend to? What is beyond? What holds it together? What is ‘next door’ to us?
Life around is continually renewing itself. It is a great thing to wonder about this process: What holds it all together? How is it that the ‘birds and the bees’ came to be able to renew life, to procreate and have life continue despite so many challenges to life? How much of it have we already destroyed or put in danger with our huge population and luxury demands for energy?
The atomic make up of this universe is a curious expanse. What regulates the sub-atomic pieces of the universe and life so that what we encounter has a semblance of order, an order that we ‘discover’ and passionately pursue understanding, so that we can ‘progress into the future’?
Human life and consciousness bring us to wonder about all around us, with curiosity and purpose to ‘make life better’. No more wonder is possible than to wonder how it is that we can wonder at all. What are we made up of? Certainly it is more than chemicals and happenstance!
The greatest wonder of all is that God deigns to live with us, as Jesus, and always as God who sojourns with us each day of this miracle of life.
God is the One who created all this, the universe of galaxies and black holes, life on earth of so many varieties and interconnections, human spirit of body-mind-soul, and all that is – even if we cannot know of it or even imagine it!
God sees the nations so grandly constituted for good and evil as entities smaller than grains of sand. God could scoop up the isles out of the oceans all in a moment and toss them into a black hole on the other side of the universe. God knows the inner workings of every life form and every interconnection between forms of life and even between each life form and the cosmic events of which we may or may not be aware. God knows everything about humans, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the miraculous.
God has all knowledge of all things. God has all power over all things in all time and beyond time. God has all everything above every thing and moment.
This God chooses to walk with us, each day. To love us. To protect us. To guide us. To accompany us in the best of times and the worst of times.
If God is for us, who can be of consequence standing against us?
No one. Not even the Evil One and those who do the Evil One’s bidding, trying to lie about reality, to create a false reality supposedly more favourable to themselves while destroying so many around them.
No, not even our worst enemies, nor the Evil that drives them … nothing can separate us from God’s love and grace. With God’s love and grace working for us, we are able to help God makes wonders happen for all God’s people, all God’s creatures, and even all of God’s creation.
Yet I have been the Lord your God ever since the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no saviour.
1 John 4:13-14
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world.
Words of Grace For Today
If only all in the world would only know our God as generously gracious, loving and merciful, and always walking with us, all of us.
If only we could know our God so, and remember that … every day, no matter what.
We can know that God is with us, for even in our darkest hour, the story of Jesus saving the world and us in it can always convince us anew that God is with us and for us, just as God worked to save God’s people from slavery in Egypt, from the wilderness, and from all the temptations of the Evil One.
Spirit and spirit, God meets us as we are and as God is: always fully spirited, always able to follow in Jesus’ way, giving good words and God’s good promises to all.