1289) An Interesting Toilet

Excavation of gate complex of biblical city of Lachish in the Judean foothills

Modern day excavations at the ancient city of Lachish


   In the mid-19th century the truth of the Bible was often called into question by scholars who pointed to a lack of archaeological evidence for the Biblical accounts.  In the century and a half since then, there has been extensive archaeological work done in Israel, and there have been hundreds of finds confirming the Biblical accounts.

     This year, archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority discovered a 2,700 year old toilet that has an interesting Biblical connection.

     The archaeologists are working in the ancient city of Lachish, referred to twenty-two times in the Old Testament.  The Lachish city gate, at 80 feet by 80 feet, is the largest known in ancient Israel.  It consists of six chambers, three on either side, and the city’s main street that passed between them.  Sa’ar Ganor, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, says: “The size of the gate is consistent with the historical and archaeological knowledge we possess, whereby Lachish was the most important city after Jerusalem.  According to the biblical narrative, the cities’ gates were the place where everything took place: the city elders, judges, governors, kings and officials – everyone would sit on benches in the city gate.  These benches were found in our excavation.”

     Artifacts discovered in the chamber rooms on the two sides give clues as to how they were used 2,700 years ago.  For example, in the first chamber there were benches with armrests.  At the foot of the benches were many items, including jars, scoops for loading grain, and jar handles bearing the name of the official or a seal impression indicating they belonged to the king.  It appears that officials used the room to conduct government business.

     Archaeologist Ganor then describes another of the rooms, clearly used for worship:  “A staircase ascended to a large room where there was a bench upon which offerings were placed.  An opening was exposed in the corner of the room that led to the ‘holy of holies.’  To our great excitement, we found two four-horned altars and scores of ceramic finds consisting of lamps, bowls and stands in this room.”  

     It was in this room that they found a “seat carved of stone with a hole in the center.” In other words, a toilet.  

     Why was there a toilet in this sacred room?


Israeli archaeologists believe they have evidence that the biblical King Hezekiah did indeed destroy the high places and idols in the land of Israel as described in the Bible, evidence officials say highlights Israel's past connection to the land and helps draw the country's boundaries today.

Archaeologist Sa’ar Ganor and team with the ancient toilet seat.


     To understand the significance of this find, we need to go back to the the reign of King Hezekiah in eighth century before Christ.  Hezekiah had initiated series of reforms aimed at eradicating the worship of false gods in Judah.  At the heart of these reform efforts was the elimination what the Bible called “high places,” cultic sites that contained an altar.  They were usually located, as the name suggests, on a hill or a ridge.  Lachish is located in the Judean foothills.

     At first these places were dedicated to the worship of Yahweh; but over time they became places to worship the pagan deities of Israel’s neighboring nations, especially the false god Baal.  The Bible also tells us that “Asherah poles,” cultic objects dedicated to the worship of the Canaanite goddess of fertility, were often erected at these sites.  

   This was all clearly forbidden in the first commandment, “Thou shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).  The prophets were constantly condemning the worship of these false gods, calling on the people to repent and return to the true God.  Hezekiah was commended because his reforms called for a return to the worship of Yahweh, and “he removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles.”

     That brings us to the discovery at Tel Lachish.  The large room that appeared to be a religious shrine contained two four-horned altars, and the horns on these altars did not wear off, but had been intentionally cut off.   Excavation leader Sa’ar Ganor believes that the destroyed altars corroborate biblical references to King Hezekiah’s reforms.  Ganor believes that this was “unquestionably a desecration of this shrine room.”  

   Besides cutting off the horns of the altar, Hezekiah apparently had this toilet installed in the ‘holy of holies’ to further signify God’s strong disapproval of this form of worship, and, as the ‘ultimate desecration’ of that pagan place.  The story of Hezekiah does not mention the installation of that particular toilet, but it is in a similar story of religious reform from 130 years earlier that we learn of the practice.  In 2 Kings 10, we’re informed that following the fall of King Ahab, Jehu and his followers “demolished the pillar of Baal, and destroyed the temple of Baal, and made it a latrine to this day.”  

     The discovery at Lachish is the first instance of this practice being confirmed by archaeology.

     John Stonestreet writes of this discovery:  “This latest discovery comes on the heels of other discoveries confirming a great deal of what the scriptures tell us about Hezekiah and his reign.  And to think that only a few decades ago, many, if not most, scholars doubted that Hezekiah, along with ancestors David and Solomon, ever actually existed.  And now they seem to be popping up everywhere.  That should not come as a surprise. The Bible is the best-attested book of antiquity…  All of this is another reminder that the biblical faith is firmly rooted in actual human history and not in some mythological ‘once upon a time.'”

     Israeli officials were excited about the discovery.  Culture Minister Miri Regev said the discovery deepened Israel’s “connection to our ancestors who walked this land…  The uncovering of these finds joins a long list of discoveries that enlighten us about our historic past, a past that is manifested in our country’s soil and in the writings of the Book of Books.”


Micah 1:13  —  You who live in Lachish…  are where the sin of Daughter Zion began, for the transgressions of Israel were found in you.

Hosea 10:8a  —  The ‘high places’ of wickedness will be destroyed— it is the sin of Israel.

II Kings 10:27-28  —  They demolished the sacred stone of Baal and tore down the temple of Baal, and people have used it for a latrine to this day.  So Jehu destroyed Baal worship in Israel.

II Kings 18:3-4a  —  (Hezekiah) did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done.  He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles.


Almighty God, may we fear, love, and trust in you above all things.  Amen.

–Prayer based on Martin Luther’s catechism explanation to the First Commandment

1288) Hoping for Help (part three of three)

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Based on my sermon October 16, 2016:

     In John chapter 16, Jesus is spending his last evening with his disciples before his crucifixion.  The disciples don’t know yet what is coming, but Jesus is helping preparing them for a huge disappointment.  Jesus said to them, “In a little while, you will see me no more” (he would die on the cross and be buried);  “and then,” Jesus said, “after a little while, you will see me” (when he rose from the dead).  But even after the resurrection, the time would be brief and Jesus would go to heaven.  They again would be left alone, without him.  Jesus went on to predict that they would grieve and weep and mourn— but then in the end, their grief would turn to joy.  Jesus then said, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart, for I have overcome the world.”  Jesus was preparing them for the shattering of many of their hopes:  he would no longer be with them, they would face great suffering as they took his message to the world, many people would reject their message, and most of those disciples would be killed.  But Jesus was offering them a hope and a help that went beyond this world and this life.  Jesus was assuring them that even though many of their earthly hopes would be disappointed, their ultimate and eternal hope in him would never be disappointed.

     Malcom Muggeridge was a British journalist who recorded the rising and falling of many 20th century political leaders, and the failure of their hopes for a better world.  For much of his life he was an unbeliever.  But late in life Muggeridge began writing about his fascination with Jesus, and at the age of 79 joined the Roman Catholic Church.  Describing two very different kinds of hope, Muggeridge wrote:

As Christians, we need not be discouraged when we see all around us the decay of institutions and powers, when we see empires falling, when we see the economy is such disarray, and when we see social program after program fail, or worse yet, create more problems.  That all need not lead us to despair.  Rather, it is precisely when every earthly hope has been tried and found inadequate, when every possible help from man has been sought and come to nothing, when every recourse this world offers has been explored and attempted to no effect, when the last ray of light and hope has gone out, and we are left in darkness—It is then, that Christ’s hand reaches out sure and firm.  Then Christ’s words bring their soothing comfort, and then his light shines the brightest, abolishing the darkness forever.  Thus, finding in everything else only failure and decay and anxiety, our soul is driven back to God.  (The End of Christendom, 1980, page 56)

     That is a good quote to keep in mind this election year.

     Muggeridge echoes the words of Paul who, during a difficult time in his life, wrote:  “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death.  But this happened so that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead…  We have placed our hope in him that he will save us”  (II Corinthians 1:8-9…10b).

     Now, just in case none of this applies to you, and all of your hopes and dreams are being fulfilled and everything is going well for you, that’s great, praise God from whom all blessings flow.  And if you believe the fulfillment of all your hopes and dreams is still in the future and you are working hard toward those goals, then by all means go for it, as Paul says in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.”

     But at the same time, do not get your entire faith, hope, and well-being wrapped up in the things of this world.  It is easy to fall into that trap.  Remember that whatever you have or get will be only for the time being.  So when the disappointments come, as they always do, remember that one hope that will not disappoint you.  And when everything you ever hoped for and worked for is slowly stripped from you by old age or failed health– remember, that if your deepest hope is in Jesus, the best is still yet to come.  And even in those times at the cemetery when it seems all hope is gone, we are still not out of hope, for it says in God’s Word, “Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:8b).

  So be ready to give up on all your false and temporary hopes– you fill feel much better.  But don’t give up on your hope in Jesus; and you will be all right, now and forever.

     “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”


Lamentations 3:25-26  —  The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

Zechariah 9:10  —  “Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hopeeven now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13  —  Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.


Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they can find their rest in you.

–St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), in Confessions


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1287) Hoping for Help (part two of three)

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Blue Ridge Mountains; Symmes Chapel, Cleveland, South Carolina


Based on my sermon October 16, 2016:

     (continued…)  Look again at these verses from today’s Psalm, Psalm 121:1-2:  “I will lift up my eyes to the hills– from where will my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

     From where will my help come?  That’s a good question.  Where do you think our help going to come from?  Does anyone think it is going to come from the Republicans or the Democrats this year?  I don’t think so.  Talk about ‘giving up hope!’  Good grief, what a mess we are in.  If your main hope is in our political process, then this is a great year for you to learn a lesson about the disappointments of false hopes.  You will certainly “feel much better when you give up that hope.”

     Of course we have been richly blessed as a nation, and of course we want to hope for the best for our nation, and of course we need to pray for our leaders, and of course we should do our best to be good citizens and vote and serve our communities in whatever ways we can.  But if this is your main hope, and if this is where you think your help will come from, and if you expect anything better than an ongoing mess, you will be disappointed.  Listen to these words from Psalm 146:3-4:  “Put not your trust in princes, or in earthly, human rulers, in whom there is no help.  When their breath departs they return to the earth, and on that day their plans perish.”

     Psalm 121:2 tells us that our help comes from the Lord, who made the heaven and the earth.  That is the kind of help we must look to and depend on.  But we need to remember what kind of help it is that God offers.  When the Bible tells us that our help comes from the Lord, it does not necessarily mean that His help will come riding in on the results of the 2016 presidential election, or any other election. 

     And if we are in for bad times as a nation, that does not mean God is not God, or is not there, or is not good, or does not answer prayer.  In 1865, after what was by far the worst four years in American history, Abraham Lincoln said that the horrific Civil War might well have been the judgment of God on the sins of this nation.  Then, quoting the Old Testament, Lincoln said, “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”  (Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865.)

     God is not obligated to bless the United States of America.  We have been blessed, and as Christians we continue to pray for those blessings.  But then, we leave it in God’s hands as we pray ‘Thy will be done.’  And sometimes, it is the will of God to not bless, but to judge and to punish.  And who are we to say what we deserve?

     When we read the promises of God’s help as in Psalm 121, we have to ask what kind of help it is that we receive from God.  We might want God to help by making everything go well for us all the time.  But God wants something different for us and from us.  God wants our faith, our attention, our obedience, and our hearts, for now and for all eternity.  Sometimes, God may get our attention by blessing us, and sometimes, God may have to withhold those blessings in order to get our attention. 

     God, the maker of heaven and earth, does not owe us anything.  If we take what God has given us, and then choose to ignore or despise God, He is free to take it back.  God does not want us to turn away from Him and be lost for all eternity.  Therefore, allowing all of our smaller hopes to be frustrated, disappointed, and destroyed might be, in the long run, what is needed to keep us faithful to God, so that we can be with Him for all eternity.

     Our ultimate hope must be in God, and in no one or nothing else.  And as we trust God to help us, we then must also trust that God knows what kind of help we need, even though what we get may not be what we want.  We are God’s children, says the Bible, and children do not always know what is best for them.  Sometimes God can help us best by hindering us, lest we begin to take His good help for granted and forget all about Him.  (continued…)


Psalm 121:1-2…7-8 (KJV)  —  I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.  My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth…  The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.  The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

Psalm 19:9b  —  The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

Romans 5:1-5  —  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith,we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And this hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.


Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they can find their rest in you.

–St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), in Confessions.

1286) Hoping for Help (part one of three)

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Based on my October 16, 2016 sermon:

     “I feel much better now that I’ve given up hope.”  I first saw this saying on a button several years ago and I have thought about it many times since.  When I googled it today I learned that this was the title of a 1984 book by Ashleigh Brilliant.  (Yes, that is his real name.)

     As it stands, that statement is not at all consistent with the message of hope that Christians have in Jesus.  The Bible speaks of having hope, not giving up hope.  But there is at least a grain of truth in the saying, a grain of truth that is applicable to our faith and is consistent with the Bible.

     It all depends on how you answer one very important question: “In what do you put your hope?”

     Hope, in and of itself, is neither good or bad, true or false, wise or foolish.  It all depends on what you are hoping for.  The Bible offers the one and only lasting source of hope—faith in Jesus Christ.  All other hopes are either temporary or false.

     It is usually a good thing to have some kind of hope to keep you going.  But quitting your job because you bought a lottery ticket and you are hoping to win big and there is no need to work when you are going to get 268 million dollars– would not be a good idea.

     The Bible condemns all our false hopes because they keep us from our best and true and ultimate hope.  The Old Testament prophets condemned the way their kings ignored God and put all their hope in their armies.  Jesus was critical of the hopes people placed in their money or power or prestige.  In fact, the whole Biblical salvation history makes it clear that God is more than ready to destroy our false hopes, and bring us to ruin and destruction if that is what it takes to bring us to the true hope of salvation.

     And just because one is a Christian does not mean their deepest hope is in Jesus.  Many Christians believe in Jesus and possess the greatest hope and security possible, but then in their daily lives keep on clinging to all sorts of false hopes; and then they get all the disappointments that come with that.  We all do this.  We all have our temporary and unreliable hopes.  Parents hope for kids that won’t disappoint and hurt them, kids hope for parents that will not misunderstand them, and husbands and wives hope their partner that will always see things their way.  Farmers and gardeners hope for just enough rain each year, but not too much.  We hope for a predictable economy so we can know where we are at from now on, and we hope for no setbacks, financial or otherwise.  We hope for neighbors that will not irritate us, a job that will always please us, and that time would slow down a bit and not keep flying by us so fast.  Can you see why we are always getting disappointed?

     We all have lots of things we hope for, and many of them are false hopes.  It’s not wrong to hope for any of those things; but we do need to realize that the hope offered in God’s Word is a different kind of hope.  And nowhere does the Bible guarantee a life without disappointment.

     The saying “I feel much better now that I have given up hope” has nothing to say about our hope in Christ.  We do not want to give up on that hope.  But it has much to say about our false hopes.  We spend so much of our time hoping for the time when better things will come our way, that we often forget about all the blessings we already have.  In giving up on our desperate hopes for something more or different, we can actually begin to feel better by appreciating what God has already given us.

     Oftentimes, our hopes become unrealistic expectations, and can lead us into despair instead of hope.  For example, a wife lives in daily disappointment and frustration because her husband is not as interesting as he used to be or as understanding as she had hoped; she forgets to be thankful that he has always been a good provider, is a good father to their children, and is faithful to her.  A young man envies his friends who all have jobs where they seem to work a lot less and earn a lot more; he fails to be thankful for the job he does have, and the fact that he does really like many things about it.  A teen-age girl was hoping she could start on the basketball team, and lives in misery because she spends most of the time sitting on the bench; she forgets that she does have an easier time getting good grades on her schoolwork than all of her friends.  You can probably make your own list for your own life.  None of this means anyone should give up on working for a better life.  But as we work toward our goals we must not lose sight of the blessings already given.

     And no matter how hard we work or how bad we want something, the disappointments and crushed hopes do still come our way.  And as we make the necessary adjustments to reality, we might even find ourselves agreeing with the ‘brilliant’ words of Mr. Brilliant: “I feel much better now that I have given up hope.”  The less we hope for and expect, the less we will be disappointed.  Again, this is not the whole truth, but does contain a grain of truth.  We dare not put all our trust in our earthly hopes, because even if all those best hopes are fulfilled, it is always, only, for just a little while.

     But more needs to be said.  (continued…)


Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 (portions)  —  I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.”  But that also proved to be meaningless…  I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly…  I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.  I undertook great projects.  I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.  I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.  I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees...  I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.  I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces.  I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well; all the delights of a man’s heart.  I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me…  I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.  My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.  Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.


Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they can find their rest in you.

–St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), in Confessions.

1285) Not Fair?

From The Clergy of America: Anecdotes, 1869, pages 169-170

     A sermon illustration from a New England minister in the 1700’s.


     A clergyman sitting in his study, saw some boys in his garden stealing melons.  He quietly arose, and walking into his garden, called out to them, “Boys, boys.”  They immediately fled with the utmost speed, tearing through the shrubbery, and tumbling over the fences.  “Boys,” cried out the gentleman, “stop, do not be afraid.  You may have as many melons as you want.  I have more than I know what to do with.”

     The boys, urged by the consciousness of their guilt, fled with increasing speed.  They did not like to trust themselves in the gentlemen’s hands; neither did they exactly relish the idea of receiving favors from one whose garden they were robbing.

     The clergyman continued to entreat them to stop, assuring them that they should not be hurt, and that they might have as many melons as they wished for.  But the very sound of his voice added wings to their speed.  They scampered on in every direction, with as determined an avoidance as though the gentleman were pursuing them with a horsewhip.  He determined, however, that they should be convinced that he was sincere in his offers, and therefore pursued them.  Two little fellows who could not climb over the fence were caught by the minister.  He led them back, telling them they were welcome to melons whenever they wanted any, and gave to each of them a couple, and then allowed them to go home.  He sent by them a message to the other boys, that whenever they wanted any melons, they were welcome to them, if they would but come to him.

     The other boys, when they heard of the favors with which the two had been laden, were loud in the expression of their indignation.  They accused the clergyman of impartiality, in giving to some without giving to all; and when reminded that would not accept his offers, but ran away from him as fast as they could, they replied, “What of that?  He caught these two boys, and why should he have selected them instead of the rest of us?  If he had only run a little faster, he might have caught us, too.  It was mean of him to show such partiality.”

     Again they were reminded that the clergyman was ready to serve them as he did the other two he caught, and give them as many melons as they wanted, if they would only go and ask him for them.

     Still, the boys would not go near him, but accused the generous man of injustice and partiality in doing for two, that which he did not do for all.

     So it is with the sinner.  God finds all guilty, and invites them to come to him and be forgiven, and receive the richest blessings heaven can afford.  They all run from him, and the louder he calls, the more furious do they rush in their endeavors to escape.  By his grace he pursues, and some he overtakes.  He loads them with favors, and sends them back to invite their fellow-sinners to return and receive the same.  They refuse to come, and yet never cease to abuse his mercy and insult his goodness.  They say, “Why does God select some and not others?  Why does he overtake others who are just as bad as we are, and allow us to escape?  This election of some and not others, is unjust and partial.”

     And when the minister of God replies, “The invitation is extended to you:  Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17), the sinner heeds it not, but goes on in his sins, still complaining of the injustice and partiality of God, in saving some and not saving all.


Psalm 103:8-10 — The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.

Isaiah 55:7 — Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Matthew 18:14 — (Jesus said), “It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that any one of these little ones should perish.”

A Morning Prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894):

 The day returns and brings us the petty round of irritating concerns and duties.  Help us, O Lord, to perform them with laughter and kind faces, and let cheerfulness abound with industry.  Give to us to go blithely on our business all this day, bring us to our resting beds weary and contented and undishonored, and grant us in the end the gift of sleep.  Amen.

1284) Morning and Evening Prayer (jb8)

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From A Diary of Private Prayer, 1949, by John Baillie, Church of Scotland pastor and theologian, (1886-1960); containing a morning and evening prayer for thirty-one days (adapted).


MORNING PRAYER  (Twenty-ninth day)

Almighty and most merciful Father, whose power and love eternally work together for the protection of your children, give me grace this day to put my trust in you.

O Father, I pray—
for faith to believe that you rule the world in truth and righteousness;
for faith to believe that if I seek first your Kingdom and righteousness, you will provide for all my lesser needs;
for faith to take no anxious thought for the morrow, but to believe in the continuance of your past mercies;
for faith to see your loving purposes unfolding in the happenings of this time;
for faith to be calm and brave in the face of such dangers as may meet me in the doing of my duty;
for faith to believe in the power of your love to melt my hard heart and forgive my sins;
for faith to put my trust in love rather than in force, even when others harden their hearts against me;
for faith to believe in your ultimate victory over disease and death and all the powers of darkness;
for faith to profit by such sufferings as you call upon me to endure;
for faith to leave in your hands the welfare of all my dear ones, especially ____, ____, and ____.
O Lord, in whom all my fathers trusted, rid my heart now of all confusion and vain anxieties and paralyzing fears.  Give me a cheerful and buoyant spirit, and peace in doing your will for Christ’s sake.  Amen.


Psalm 25:1  —  In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.

Psalm 13:5  —   I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.

Psalm 84:12  —  Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.

Isaiah 26:3  —  You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.


EVENING PRAYER  (Twenty-third day)

O Everlasting God, let the light of eternity now fall upon my passing days; let
the light of your righteousness fall upon my sinful ways; and let the light of your love pierce to the most secret corners of my heart and overcome the darkness of sin within me.

Am I living as my conscience approves?
Am I demanding of others a higher standard of conduct than I demand of myself?
Am I taking a less charitable view of the failings of my neighbors than I am of my own?
Am I standing in public for principles which I do not practice in private?
Let my answer before Thee be truthful, O God.

Do I ever allow bodily appetites to take precedence over spiritual interests?
To which do I give the benefit of the doubt, when my course is not clear?
Do I ever allow the thought of my own gain to take precedence over the interests of the community?
To which do I give the benefit of the doubt, when my course is not clear?
Let my answer before Thee be truthful, O God.

Am I, in my daily life, facing the stress of circumstance with faith and courage?
Am I grateful for my many blessings?
Am I allowing my happiness to be too much dependent on money?  On business success?  Or on the good opinion of others?
Is the help I give to others who are in trouble equal to the help I would hope for, if the same things happened to me?

Let my answer be truthful, O God.  Through Jesus Christ.  Amen.


Psalm 51:10  —  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Amen.

1283) Do Not Presume… Do Not Despair…

Luke 23:32-33…38-43:

 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with Jesus to be executed.  When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals— one on his right, the other on his left…  There was a written notice above him, which read: This is the king of the Jews.  One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him:  “Aren’t you the Messiah?  Save yourself and us!”  But the other criminal rebuked him.  “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong.”  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”


     There is much one could say about this little exchange of words between two criminals and the Savior of the world.  I want to say something about the last minute conversion of one of the criminals.

     Jesus once told a parable about workers in a vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).  Some of the workers begin very early in the morning and work all day, others are hired throughout the day, and some don’t begin until five in the afternoon.  But then all of them are paid the same wage.  One of the lessons of that parable is that the door is always open, we may come to faith anytime, and God receives us with his fullest blessings.

     We might assume that these two thieves on the crosses next to Jesus were not believers.  But now, right at the very end of their lives, they have the greatest opportunity possible for a last minute conversion.  They were dying in the presence of the Son of God himself.  One of them sees Jesus and believes in Him, and the other does not.  That’s how is is with last minute conversions– sometimes they happen and sometimes they don’t.

     Think about the mothers of those two boys, probably at home worrying about them.  These mothers no doubt worried much over the years, disappointed with how their boys turned out.  Maybe they didn’t even know where their sons were that day; though perhaps they did hear about their trial and the sentence to be executed for their crimes.  We can imagine that the biggest worry for those mothers was to think that their sons were dying without being right with God.  And unless they were at the cross that day, and heard this conversation with Jesus, they would have been left with uncertainty.  But they would have probably been quite sure their boys died without being right with God, and that leaves a terrible sadness.

     St. Augustine was one time asked a question by a mother in that very position, distraught about the fate of her son that died.  He had drifted away from his Christian faith, and she did not know if he had ever returned to the Lord.  In his reply Augustine referenced this story.  He said, “Do not presume anything, one thief was lost.  But do not despair, one thief was saved.”

     Do not presume, he said, there are no guarantees– one thief was lost.  He rejected and even insulted Jesus right to the very end.  I have seen people die that way.

     But, Augustine said, do not despair, for one thief was saved.  In his last day, perhaps it was even his last hour, he looked to Jesus in faith.  That can happen.  I have seen that, too.  Even on a death bed, even in quiet of one’s own heart without anyone else seeing, hearing, or ever knowing, just between the person and Jesus, right at the end, one can come to faith.

     Do not presume… do not despair…


Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

–Luke 23:42


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1282) Till Death Do We Part

Groom waiting on Bride

By Garrett Kell, posted February 27, 2015 at:



A member of our church named Julie recently shared the story of her Grandparent’s love:

     My Grandparents truly had a lifetime love affair.  Their marriage was not perfect, but was marked by a consistent, devoted, and tender love for one another.

     Their love remained steady in times of plenty and in times of need.  In all the days and nights I spent at their house, I never heard an argument between them.  And while I’m certain difficult days came and went, I never witnessed one disrespect the other.

     Shortly before my Grandparent’s 54th wedding anniversary, my Grandma became gravely ill.  Watching his beloved bride suffer made those days very difficult, but Grandpa stayed by her side until she safely reached her heavenly home.

     As he grieved and planned for her funeral, he wanted to honor his wife one last time and fulfill his vow “until death do we part.”  So on the day of her funeral, he stood at the altar one last time.  As the doors opened and the pallbearers brought his bride down the aisle, he waited for her in the same spot he stood 54 years earlier when she walked down to become his bride.

     That day he fulfilled his vow and committed her into the hand of the One who had given her to him.  He was faithful, all the way to the end.


Matthew 19:4b-6  —  (Jesus said), “At the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Ephesians 5:25  —  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Ephesians 4:1b-2  —  I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.


Blessed are you, O Lord our God,
for you have created joy and gladness,
pleasure and delight, love, peace and fellowship.
Pour out the abundance of your blessing
upon ___ and ___ in their new life together.
Let their love for each other be a seal upon their hearts
and a crown upon their heads.
Bless them in their work and in their companionship;
awake and asleep,
in joy and in sorrow,
in life and in death.
Finally, in your mercy, bring them to that banquet
where your saints feast for ever in your heavenly home.
We ask this through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, Marriage service

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1281) The Purpose of a Funeral Sermon

          Many people expect a funeral sermon to be personal.  They like it when the preacher can speak about the deceased as if they were well acquainted, even if they did not know each other at all.  

     I explained my approach to funeral sermons in this introduction to a sermon I gave at a funeral a few years ago:

     Funeral sermons can be difficult for a preacher.  Everyone one of you here today probably knew Emma better than I did, but I am the one who is now going to do all the talking.  So what should I say?

      A fellow pastor tells the story of how he was struggling with this problem as a young minister about to do his first funeral.  He had just started in the church, and had not even met the man whose funeral he was about to do.  So he asked a few of the men at the church if they could tell him about Ralph so he would have something to say in his sermon.  One of the men responded right away, and said, “You know, pastor, we knew Ralph pretty well, so don’t feel like you have to tell us all about him.  Why don’t you use the sermon to just preach God’s Word?  That’s the purpose of a funeral sermon, anyway.  Didn’t anyone ever tell you that at the seminary?” 

     Somebody did tell me that at the seminary, and I always thought that was good advice.  If I do know the person, I might say some things about him or her, but only to illustrate, or lead into, what I want to proclaim that day from God’s Word.  There are many opportunities for family and friends to share thoughts and memories of their departed loved one.  The funeral sermon is the time to hear a Word from God about what just happened.  


I Thessalonians 13-14…18  —   Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him…  Therefore encourage one another with these words.

John 14:1-6  —  (Jesus said), “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 11:25  —  (Jesus said), “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.”


 Lord Jesus Christ, you have overcome death and brought life and immortality to light.  Give us grace so to believe in you, the Resurrection and the life, that we may not fear death nor dread the grave.  Help us joyfully to await the time when, by your almighty power, our frail bodies will be fashioned like your glorified body…  With reverence and affection we remember before you, O everlasting God, all our departed friends and relatives.  Keep us in union with them here through faith and love toward you, that hereafter we may enter into your presence and be numbered with those who serve you and look upon your face in glory everlasting, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, Occasional Services,  (#474 and #235), 1978, Augsburg Publishing House

1280) An Ornery Guy

Matthew 25:14-10:

     (Jesus said), “It will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.  To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability.  Then he went on his journey.  The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more.  So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more.  But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.  After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.  The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five.  ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold.  See, I have gained five more.’  His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!’  The man with two bags of gold also came.  ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’  His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!’  Then the man who had received one bag of gold came.  ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground.  See, here is what belongs to you.’  His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!  So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?  Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.  So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.  For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance.  Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.  And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”


     Some of the parables of Jesus are difficult to understand, but not this one.  The first two servants put their master’s money to work, got double on their investments, and were praised for their faithful service.  The third servant did not even put the money in the bank where he could have at least received interest, but he buried it in the ground where it did not do anyone any good.  He was not praised, but was cast out into the outer darkness.  The lesson is clear.  The master wants his servants to use what he has given them to do his business.  And Jesus said this is what Gods’ kingdom is like (Matthew 25:1, 14).

     Therefore, as citizens of God’s Kingdom here on earth, we are to use what we have been given– our time, our talents, and our treasure– to do God’s business in His world.   The whole world and all that is in it belongs to the Lord.  He lets you use a little bit of it for a little while, and he wants you to use it well, doing his work with the blessings he has given you.  Of course, a part of God’s work for you is to sustain the life he has given you, to take care of those people in your family that he has given you to care for, and to support the communities in which you live.  But once that has been done in a reasonable and modest way, God wants you to use your time, abilities, and money to serve your church, and, to serve others who are in need.  God does not want you to bury the gifts he has given you.  The story that follows has to do with making good use of one’s talents and abilities.

     Melvin was the most ornery, contrary, and difficult man I have ever worked with on a church council, and I told him that one day.  Every conversation for Melvin was an argument, and so no matter what we had to talk about at council, Melvin found a way of turning it into a fight.  Worse yet, we were in the middle of a building project and there were a lot of things to talk about and decide, and therefore, many fights.  One morning, after a particularly unpleasant council meeting the night before, I went out to visit Melvin at his farm.  I found him out in the machine shed, and I could tell he was not happy to see me.  He was never happy to see anyone.  So after the usual “Hi, how are you,” I told Melvin the first part of what I came to tell him.  I said, “Melvin, you are the most ornery, contrary, and difficult person I have ever worked with on a church council.”  It didn’t surprise me that he got mad, because he got mad about everything.  I could just see the old schoolyard bully come out in him, as he tensed up and leaned forward, almost ready to pounce on this little preacher.  So I quickly added, “But you know what else, Melvin?”  And he said slowly and menacingly, “No… What else?”  Then I told him the second part of what I had come out to say.  I said, “You are a grouch, Melvin, but as far as getting things done between meetings, you are the best council person I have ever worked with.  When there is something that needs to be done, everyone else starts hemming and hawing and going on and on about how busy they all are; but not you.  You always say you will do it, and you always get it done, and it is done right.  And I want to thank you for that.”  Melvin wasn’t expecting that.  I caught him off guard, so he loosened up, first looked a little puzzled, and then he grinned a little— kind of like he was proud of himself.  “So,” I said, “I just came out here because there are a few things I need to have someone do on this building project, and I knew you would be the best person for the job.  Can you help me out?”  He said he would, and we talked some more, including a little bit on how he would be listened to more if would express his opinions more calmly and respectfully.  From that day on, Melvin was a different guy on the church council.  I’m not used to seeing people change that quickly, but it was a night and day difference with Melvin, and it was a pleasure to see.

     To use the imagery of the parable, Melvin was a one talent guy.  The Lord didn’t give him a lot of natural talent.  He probably didn’t do real well in school, his communication skills were poor, he had a bad attitude, and he had a complete lack of any compassion or tact.  But he knew his way around a construction site, he was a hard worker, and in spite of all his faults, he did make the best use of the one talent he did have.  He didn’t bury it like the servant in the parable, but made good use of it for the Lord’s work.  And then, along the way, he even learned a little bit about getting along with people.  Being a part of the church helped him with that, and he helped the church by making good use of that one talent God did give him.


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Almighty God, you have blessed each of us with a unique set of gifts, and you have called us to specific occupations, relationships, and activities in which to use those gifts.  Enable us to use our talents to serve you and to witness to our faith in you.  Keep us steadfast in our commitment to serve in your name.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship: Occasional Services, (#504) (adapted)