Tuesday, May 31, 2005

2 Corinthians 6:3-7:1

Let’s say you have a pair of handcuffs and you have to handcuff yourself to somebody. It can be anyone you want…. Who would you choose?

Would you choose someone with a foul mouth or someone who encourages everyone they meet? Would you choose a gossip or someone who always has a nice word to say? Would you choose a couch potato or a marathon runner? The choice is completely up to you…. Who would you choose?

Chances are whomever you chose would end up influencing your behavior. If you were handcuffed to someone who gossiped, you would probably tend to gossip more yourself. If, instead, you chose someone who encourages everyone they meet, you would most likely encourage others more. Knowing this, you would probably be very careful about whom you chose.

In today’s reading, Paul tells us as believers to avoid being yoked together with unbelievers because it makes no sense to do so. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?

Like with the handcuffs, we have a choice to make when it comes to being yoked together with someone. Like with the handcuffs, the choice we make will most likely influence our own behavior. Like with the handcuffs, we must be very careful about whom we choose. As believers, wickedness and darkness ought to never be considered viable options.

Now, some may take this to mean that we should only associate ourselves with "good" people and many in the church do exactly that. But we have been told we are to go out into the world, not hide from it. As we do that, we ought to make sure we have "yoke" relationships in place that will help us encourage each other and hold ourselves accountable to each other and to God.

It is these relationships that must be carefully thought out. It is in these relationships that we want our behavior influenced. It is these relationships where we must make a choice. Do you have a relationship like that? If not, who do you choose?

Mark Vereb

Monday, May 30, 2005

2 Corinthians 5:11 - 6:2

Much in our culture entices us to live for self primarily. In many forms – advertising, pop psychology, and more – we are exhorted and even wooed to nurture our emotional, physical, and financial desires first as the basis of true well-being. Even some of the “spirituality” in our churches seems imbued with a similar view – that our self-actualization constitutes the aim of God’s love for us. It is as if Jesus lived, died, and was raised to enable the ultimate in self-success and self-satisfaction for us!

To be sure, there is a semblance of truth in this. God does love us. God did send Jesus for us – to live, die, and be raised on our behalf. But here the real truth – God’s truth in Jesus – runs crossways to our human perspective. For Jesus came, not primarily to reconcile us to ourselves, but to reconcile us to God, to restore us to a loving and right relationship with God.

Therefore – Paul writes – Jesus died, not that we would live for ourselves, but for him. Reconciled to God through Jesus, we are to “live” Jesus in the world. Entrusted with the message of reconciliation, we are to be ambassadors for Jesus. We are to manifest him to the world around us. We are to encourage others to be reconciled to God through Jesus.

This is glorious but daunting! How can we do this? The answer is, we cannot do it from our own human perspective, in our own human strength. We are not capable of it; we cannot even understand it rightly. But here God’s crossways truth answers the problem. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we are made new. In Jesus we can do it. If a person is in Jesus, he or she is a new creation. The old self and world have gone. The new self and world have come! In Jesus, we can “live” Jesus in the world. We can live no longer for ourselves but for him who died and was raised for us. This is daunting but glorious! And gloriously possible for us in God’s new creation in Jesus!

Gregory Strong

Sunday, May 29, 2005

1 Timothy 6:6-21

"If we have food and clothing we will be content with that." 1 Tim 6:8

This is the second or third passage I've written on recently which has discussed our obsession with wealth and money. Again it has got me looking at the world and our area with an eye for the dollars and "things" we seem to hold dear.

This passage is telling us that the earthly things we need for a complete life are food and clothing. It struck me that shelter is not a part of this list. In this area we seem obsessed with our homes. You only need to look at the prices to see that this obsession has gotten out of control. House prices have doubled in the past 3 years (that's not scientific; I just know what's happened to our house since we purchased and what our old townhouse community is selling for). We are at the point where people cannot afford to move here unless they make a large salary and you have at least 2 incomes and really, more like 4.

What's really funny is that even when we have the "perfect" house we're not really happy in it. Something breaks and needs to be replaced, we have to mow the lawn every week, we have to clean the house. As the house gets bigger so do the responsibilities. There's always something about the house we have to do and really don't like.

Why are we so obsessed with something which God knows will not bring us contentment? Don't we already have enough food, clothes? Don't we already have God?

Tom Leary

Saturday, May 28, 2005

2 Corinthians 4:13 - 5:10

Paul says, it is written, I believed, and that is whence I speak.
Paul's quoting the Psalms here, 116:10, and what does the Psalmist say?
"I am greatly afflicted" and in my dismay I said, "all men are liars".
Paints with a broad brush I should say, but look at the context:
"You, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears
And my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord
In the land of the living."
The Psalmist's exultation in physical deliverance is Paul's spirit
of faith, his affirmation at the season of life which is past the middle,
this season of strain and gray hair and wrinkle,
this time of anxious longing and sometime despair,
that what is bodily past the bloom of life is being prepared for a greater bloom,
the resurrective power of Christ.

The tent has a few holes that let the rain in, or the summer gnats,
But this old tent was all that kept my brother, my father and I
from being blown off the side of a mountain in a thunderstorm,
and all that kept us from freezing one night beside an icy New Hampshire lake,
and what kept out the curious crow in a dry Utah gulch.
This fragile body and this gasp-at-the-latest-price house that I live in
Are just as ragged and just as going-away-too.
Paul used to make tents too I believe, he spoke from knowledge
And he longed for the tent-of-meeting-my-saviour-face-to-face.

He had that appointment made long in advance, though on a date he din't know
And I have that appointment too, with the judge of my soul. It is we who believe
Who will walk through that fire, and lose
All that isn't woven of Spirit-gold.
Wood, stubble, and hay, be gone. I need to get ready.

Friday, May 27, 2005

2 Corinthians 4:1-12

The sun has come out after the rain and the light is beautiful. It reminds me of the light of spring which lit up the woods after the dark winter. At that time I thought about the coming light of summer and how really, the real spring is yet to come when Jesus returns. The world will be lit by His presence and the darkness won’t hurt us anymore.

In this passage, Paul talks about light. First, he says, light shined at creation and now God’s light shines in our hearts.( I got a picture in my mind of illumination, like when we take a flashlight and search for something under the couch. Imagine a world with no dark corners, especially in people’s hearts). Even better, Paul says that this light shines to show us God’s glory in the face of Christ, that dear face that we look forward to seeing.

All this knowledge, Paul says, is a treasure (v.7). Many things are a treasure to me; my girls and husband, my brother who always calls me, my niece Elise (age 2) who stands in front of our fridge and yells out the color of the magnets. But really, like there is only one spring coming, there is only one Treasure. These things which can’t be measured and are priceless cannot compare to the treasure which we carry inside of us. Thank you, Jesus.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

1 Timothy 4:1-16

One of the things I have struggled with my entire life is my youth. It seems like there's just always someone older and more "wise" than I am. Seriously though, my teenage years were a very good sign of this. I would walk into a store in DC and be looked down on and watched constantly to make sure I wasn't stealing anything. I'd have a complaint and people would blow me off.

This has changed a little bit as I've gotten older. But really I still have a somewhat young face and am still sometimes seen as someone to be looked down on. If nothing else people who don't know me have the opinion that I don't have enough experience to make a difference in their life. From my work in youth group I know for sure that the opinions of these teenagers is often dismissed and sometimes even derided.

This passage really gave me hope in my own life and for that of the youth. 1 Tim 4:12 states:
Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.
It goes on to explain how we can exemplify this belief and show others our faith.

Really though the point is this. Who do you look for to gain spiritual guidance and leadership on how to live your life? Is it exclusively from your elders? We are all growing up in one way or another, and we can see God's will both in those who have been there and those who are beginning their walk. When was the last time you grew your faith by watching someone younger than you? Are you setting an example of love, faith and purity for others?


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

1 Timothy 3:1-16

In this part of his letter to Timothy, Paul outlines for us the standards for church leadership. Paul gives standards for a church overseer (the pastor, the senior warden, and perhaps all vestry members) and deacons (others that serve in the church). The standards for leadership are high, as one might expect, "... above reproach, ... temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, ... not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome..."

These are all fine qualifications for church leadership, or for any leadership for that matter, but these are not what stood out to me in this passage. Verses 4 and 5 are the key passages in my opinion. "He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?)" These verses apply to leadership in a church or business. Our first, or at least an equal, obligation is to our family.

If one is a volunteer, these verses tell us not to allow the volunteer activity to detract or distract from your family responsibilities. Sometimes Christian volunteers can make the mistake of thinking working for God at the church is so important it is all right to ignore their family. The same can be said of careers, one can make excuses as to why they need to work hours that cause them to neglect their family (e.g., to provide a certain life style for my family), but Paul reminds us that a primary obligation is to our family.

Using one's God given talents and abilities is extremely important to advance the Kingdom on this earth. Paul's message was not meant to be an excuse to get out of helping to advance the Kingdom. However, Paul's message was meant to remind us that we must maintain balance in our live. Balance between volunteer service in the church and a good and health family life.

May God bless you,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

2 Corinthians 1:12-22

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to justify certain behavior?

I know the term paper is due Wednesday, but I work better under pressure so I’m not going to start working on it until Tuesday.

Technically, I could use those office supplies while working at home, so it’s not really stealing.

We weren’t really gossiping, we were just fully explaining the situation so we could pray more specifically about it.

Many times, the further our actions are from what’s proper and appropriate, the more outlandish our justification becomes. We begin to employ our own personal spinmeisters. Eventually, it becomes clear that if we were to testify in a court of law, we would be guilty of perjury.

But notice how Paul is able to say in verse 12, “Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God.

In a trial, each side calls witnesses to present their case in the best light. If a witness’s testimony doesn’t help the case, he or she will not be called to the stand. Paul says he is confident that he can call his conscience to testify to his actions. He even tells us the secret to his confidence: his actions have been performed, not according to worldly wisdom, but according to God’s grace.

I don’t know about you, but many times, I would rather not call my conscience to the stand. It seems that my personal spinmeister is working overtime as I act according to the wisdom of the world and not at all according to God’s grace. And yet, it is that very grace of God that I need, not to dismiss my actions but to help me act in ways that I would be willing to have my conscience testify to them. And of course, once I’m open to that grace, I won’t need my spinmeister anymore.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to go fire someone….

Mark Vereb

Monday, May 23, 2005

2 Corinthians 1:1-11

Troubles and sufferings come in many forms in this world. In the opening sentences of 2 Corinthians, Paul, writing to Christians in the city of Corinth and the surrounding region of Achaia (in southern Greece), reflects on troubles and sufferings. He especially has in mind those that come because of belief in Jesus. Paul reminds his readers of hardships he experienced because of his devotion to Jesus – hardships severe enough to make him think he was likely to die. Similarly, troubles and sufferings are afflicting Christians in Corinth and Achaia because they follow Jesus as Savior and Lord rather than the other “gods” worshipped around them.

Amid hardships affecting him and his fellow believers, Paul praises God! Why? He praises God because he knows that God is not distant and uncaring. The God of Jesus Christ is close and caring. He is the Father of all compassion and comfort for those who are afflicted. Because God is close and caring, Paul lives and writes in confidence and hope – confidence and hope in God and God alone, not in himself, not in circumstances of life, not in accumulation of wealth or power or prestige.

Being a devoted follower of Jesus did not exempt Paul from troubles and sufferings. Many of the “normal” afflictions of life persisted for him. Moreover, his being a faithful witness to and servant of Jesus brought more, and more severe, afflictions. In the mystery of God’s economy, being a follower of Jesus does not transport us out of all the difficulties and ills of life. Indeed, being a follower of Jesus may lead to more, and more severe, troubles and sufferings for his sake. Yet also in the mystery of God’s economy – seen clearly, definitively, and comprehensively in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – God comes with all compassion and comfort. Thus, with faith growing amid our own troubles and sufferings, faith growing from God’s resurrection care for us, we can come alongside others with deep and true compassion and comfort for them in their troubles and sufferings. This is the stuff of praise.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Ephesians 4:1-16

There is so much in this passage to ponder. Such as:

Lead a life worthy of the calling with which you have been called.”

When people call us to do something, they generally believe we can do it. And if they give tangible expression to that by helping us succeed, well, I'm going to try my hardest not to let them down.

Of course God has not just called us, but invested his very Spirit in us. What does it mean for you and I to live in such a way that we don’t let Him down?

Or “Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit…”

It’s the every effort part that really gets me. When somebody does something that causes division between us, I’ll probably do enough to at least feel like I’ve done my part to heal the rift or make things right again. But every effort? That’s a tall order.

So...any divisions or rifts or hard feelings in your life and in mine that we might work a little harder on healing?

Or “We must grow up in every way to him who is the head, into Christ…”

Once again there is that little word “every”. Grow up in every way into Christ as our head. That means letting Christ be the Ultimate Authority in our lives. Allowing His life to set the standard for our lives. Embracing his teaching as the last word, the final say.

Are there areas—maybe just one or two—in your life and in mine that are lived outside the authority of Christ as our head? Will we do anything about that?

I think I’ll stop there. That gives me, at least, plenty to work on…

Saturday, May 21, 2005

1Timothy 6:6-21

Paul sees the end, his own end, approaching, and knows
He will take nothing from this life to the life beyond. He knows
That the Lord's time is not Paul's time, the Lord's return
Will be, but in this time between, we all must wait, patiently.
Waiting is not easy for us, we have to fill the time with things,
Things to acquire, things that cost money, and so
We are in the cycle of getting and spending and forgetting
That trappings are a trap.
Paul charges Timothy, charges us too, to fight
The Good Fight, to contest against the frankly evil,
To let go of what is dragging on us and take hold of LIFE,
Not just the daily eating and drinking and breathing,
But righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness...
That was Timothy's call, the call from the presence of God
When he made his baptismal confession. From that point
(And from our own point) he and we are forever changed,
In the way the confession of Jesus before Pilate changed
Our sentence of death to His.
Timothy is entrusted with Paul's legacy, a treasure
That lays the foundation for the next age.
Be faithful, Timothy, for Paul's sake, for the sake of Christ,
And for all who follow in your way.
That's me, and all of you, and many we will never know
This side of eternity.
What do I treasure? With what am I contending?
What is my legacy? What is yours?

Friday, May 20, 2005

I Timothy 5:17-25

I have been thinking some about hard work. Each morning I am the first one in our household to get up but when I go on our back deck and look out, the mother robin has already been up, looking for breakfast for her babies. (The blue jays most definitely have been up, but their way of looking for breakfast is to sit up in our neighbor's willow tree, watching for us to appear with their basket of peanuts).

Each day we begin our day with our household routines and this passage discusses routines in the household of faith. It talks about church leaders. Some of the people I have admired most through the years are church leaders who work hard at their jobs and then come faithfully to not only attend church on Sundays, but to help out. In our Wednesday night Bible Study this week we had a good discussion about how everyone’s place is special to the Body of Christ. May we all find something we can work hard at for His glory, for as Paul says in verse 25, good deeds can’t be hidden. Each one is a seed, bearing fruit for eternal good.

The book of Timothy was written by Paul to Timothy, one of those faithful church leaders. Paul tells Timothy, look at the athletes who train. Physical training has value, but we should train ourselves to be godly. (4:7). Athletic training requires discipline, so I wonder what disciplined training in godliness would look like. It would take time, for one thing. One would have to get up early or sacrifice time from “pleasure reading, “ for example, to meet God in the pages of Scripture. What will I be willing to give up this week in order to train myself to be godly?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

2 Timothy 3:1-17

How often have you befriended someone who saw that relationship as a way to further their own interests instead of your own? How often do you expect these people to get their "just desserts" only for them to end up getting even more of what they want?

I had a friend, Geoff, who was my best friend through middle school and high school. He helped me to get my first job where I worked for 11 years. He taught me a bit about life and helped me really dive into computers and learn to program.

After some time (I'd say 5 - 6 years) I began to really notice that our friendship generally served to benefit him. Things which he seemed to do to help me, in the end, benefited him as well. He encouraged me to sin and all the while it looked good because I was benefiting from the "spoils". At the same time it was obvious he also gained from my actions. I ended up doing some of his work while he received the credit or I took the blame for his mistakes and became a fall-back guy if anything began to go wrong.

It is so easy to trust those who are even moderately older than you (Geoff had 5 years on me) and assume they have more experience and your best interests at heart. It is true that those who live a sinful life really can look good and win us over.

At this point of my life I've realized where my faith lies. It isn't in the promises of one person. It is in Jesus' love and forgiveness that my eternity lies. My struggle now is in forgiving Geoff for his actions and moving past those things I regret.

Who has come into your life and looked so appealing only to use you? How have you been able to show faith, patience, love and endurance during your persecutions and sufferings?


Wednesday, May 18, 2005

2 Timothy 2:14-26

I really enjoy teaching. I look forward to our Wednesday night Bible study with the teenagers. I get such a rush out of studying the Bible with them. But what is a teacher? A teacher, at least a teacher as described by Paul in this letter to Timothy, is someone who helps others understand when they are confused. We are all called by Jesus to be teachers. We are all called to help those confused understand the Truth.

Now this is a simple lesson. In fact it is so obvious that it might be considered the next thing we are called to do after the Jesus creed (1. Love God, 2. Love our neighbors as ourselves, 3. Go into the world and teach the good news). But Paul's letter to Timothy gives us instruction on how to teach. His instruction is vital to the success of our teaching.

When we teach the Truth we should be kind, gentle, patient, and courteous to our audience (or students). Listening to their questions and answering them with respect, but avoiding "quarreling about words", unimportant details, and "godless chatter", foolish discussions or arguments. All questions deserve a hearing but do not let them take you away from the points you are there to make.

The vast majority of the questions I find brought forth during a discussion about Jesus and/or the Bible are great and thought provoking. These may not be easy ones to answer but I look forward to trying. However, the questions that are either aimed at challenging the Bible or are meant to sidetrack the discussion need to be addressed as well, and with the same enthusiasm and courtesy as I address the other questions. Not simply dismissed. If I do this, and if you do this when you are teaching about Jesus, those who oppose us will be more willing to hear what we have to say. If they are willing to listen perhaps they can be redirected away from their error and towards God.

May God bless you,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

1 Timothy 1:18-2:8

How heavy are your hands?

It seems like a simple question, yet the answer can be elusive. Often they’ll feel lighter or heavier depending on the circumstances.

For example, in the common elementary school experiment where you press both arms firmly against the door jambs for a minute and then step into the room, your arms seem to be lighter than air as they magically rise by themselves. When our favorite team scores, our hands are easily thrust upward but have you ever tried to just hold them straight up in the air? It doesn’t take long before they feel like 50 pound weights attached to the ends of your wrists (see Exodus 17:8-16).

Let me ask the question a little differently…. How heavy are your hands when it comes to praising and praying to God? Verse 8 tells us, “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.

The first time I raised my hands in prayer, they felt like dead weight. I thought the practice better suited to the charismatic denominations and I was an Episcopalian. Episcopalians are known for being rather stoic in their expression of prayer and praise (the “Frozen Chosen” doesn’t simply describe the early service on a winter morning). Needless to say, I was very self-conscious about doing it myself. Amazingly enough, though, as I lifted them higher, I could feel praise welling up inside me. It felt as if all of me, body as well as spirit, was being given over to God.

Sadly, I haven’t praised God with “all of me” for quite some time. I don’t know why that is but I’m thankful for this reading to remind me of what once was. Would you do me a favor? For one full week, would you join me in raising hands to God in prayer? It need not be conspicuous; you could do it in your private prayer time. If you’re a little unsure, start by just turning your palms face up. Surely, you could do that.

After all, how heavy could your hands be?

Mark Vereb

P.S. For a scientific attempt at answering this question, see How can I weigh my hand only?

Monday, May 16, 2005

1 Timothy 1:1-17

With computers we are familiar with the concept of “add-ons.” The computer we purchased last year or last week is not good enough in itself. We must buy extra devices to make it truly satisfying. Electronics stores target this “need.” Their online sites usually feature a link dedicated to a staggering array of “add-ons” your computer and my computer must have to fulfill their potential and our desire!

Something similar often occurs in our approach to Jesus. We want to embellish the life and teaching of Jesus. For many reasons – some within us, some within our culture – we act as if what Jesus actually did and actually taught are not adequate or true enough for us. Hence, sometimes subtly and sometimes blatantly, we add to and even alter the life and teaching of Jesus. In broad terms, this is what Paul writes about to Timothy around thirty years after the resurrection of Jesus. Some people in Ephesus (in modern day Turkey) took the Jewish scriptures (what became our Bible’s Old Testament) and interpreted them in ways to add to and alter Jesus. Paul urges Timothy to correct this false teaching with right teaching that is known by true faith in Jesus. As Paul asserts, the true teaching from Jesus does not lead to endless “add-ons” but to love – love for God and love for others.

We do well to learn from Paul’s exhortation to Timothy. The actual life and teaching of Jesus are more than adequate, more than true enough for our world and for each of us. They are “full, perfect, and sufficient” for us (to adapt from Eucharistic Prayer I in Holy Eucharist I in our prayer book). Read Paul’s rhapsody in verses 12 through 17 about what Jesus did with his life. Jesus came to save sinners, with Paul being among the worst. Yet Jesus lavished love and grace on him, thus transforming Paul into an adorer and devoted follower of Jesus! If Jesus did this with Paul, what can he do with you and me? What love for God and for others can Jesus grow in us?

Gregory Strong

Sunday, May 15, 2005

I Corinthians 2: 1-13

Christianity is a “Spirited” faith through and through. In other words, our faith is one in which God calls us to live "in the Spirit".

God's willingness to share His life with ours is an amazing thing. After all, this is the God whose vast reservoirs of God’s insight and understanding make our greatest wisdom look like foolishness. This is the God whose infinite strength makes our greatest power seem like weakness.

To accept God’s invitation to receive His Spirit is to also receive the life this makes possible. It is to move from living on a purely human level to living supernaturally. That is the Spirit Life that God makes available to us.

So here is the big question: What are we doing with our lives that we could not simply do on our own?

Paul writes, My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God (vss. 4-5).

How does our life—your life and mine—proclaim the Spirit and power of God in ways that go beyond what the world has to offer?

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Hebrews 9:1-14

In this section of Hebrews, the author compares the old covenant, which included barriers between worshipers and God, with the new covenant, which provides worshipers with direct access to God. The new covenant is superior because Jesus is the perfect priest, and He offered His own blood as the perfect sacrifice once for all. The death of Jesus provided atonement. It freed us from our sins. It restored our relationship with God.

A few years ago, during a small group discussion in an ALPHA class offered by St. Matthew's, one of our new members tearfully said that he had done something terrible. He didn't hint at what he had done, and no one asked, but it was evident that he was troubled, tormented, burdened. Several members tried to tell him that all he had to do was place that sin at the foot of the cross because Jesus died for us, for our sins, so that we could be reconciled to God. He said he understood, but it was clear that he didn't. A few months later, he left St. Matthew's.

Sadly, that man's conscience had created a barrier between himself and God. He thought God was disappointed and angry with him. He thought he was unworthy of forgiveness. Certainly, he couldn't forgive himself. By not accepting what the sacrifice of Christ achieved, he essentially reverted to the old covenant, which precludes access to God. He had forgotten that we are, all of us, redeemed and have only to ask for forgiveness.

Do you place barriers between yourself and God?

Dear God, when we stumble, when we fall, grant us the grace, at that moment of guilt and doubt, to go to you rather than to hide from you. May we receive your grace and know that you will always welcome our repentant souls with the open arms of a father's unconditional love. Amen

Martha Olson

Friday, May 13, 2005

1 Peter 4: 12-19

As Mother’s Day just passed I have been thinking of the faithfulness of some mothers. I paid a Mother’s Day visit to the robin sitting on her nest in my backyard tree. I continued my kneeling and weeding under her tree, far enough away so that I wouldn’t alarm her as she sat, patient, on her nest.

My own mother, like many of yours, has had to patiently endure some sufferings in her life. In the past, she’s had to endure mistreatment for the sake of Christ and for her beliefs. This week I asked her how she could have been so calm. It even seems as though she operates in some other plane, not feeling the hurt, but I know she must have feelings like the rest of us. So I asked her her secret. She laughed and said she had prayed – a lot. She had no recourse and no ideas. Day and night she prayed and I believe that this communion with God, born of necessity, changed her. She is now one of the most serene people I know.

I used to think that a suffering person needed to develop a thick skin, to be tough and stand up to those who try to mistreat them, to get in touch with some inner tough guy. I know now that I want to get in touch with my inner Rosemary. I want to be fervent in prayer so it seems like serenity is just…me.

Linda Merola

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Hebrews 7:18-28

"I swear on my mother's grave I'm telling the truth"

"I swear if you don't stop that right now I'm going to knock you into tomorrow"

"I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me God"

"I swear to take this woman to have and to hold, to cherish in sickness and in health until death do us part"

"I swear Coldstone Creamery is THE BEST ice cream I'll ever have"

Ok, I think you get the idea. I'm talking about oaths.

When we enter into a relationship with someone, whether it's a friend, a date or a long term commitment (I'm talking marriage here) we make an oath to that person. Sometimes it's not spoken and sometimes it is, but we commit to that person that we will treat them well, the way we want to be treated by them, and the way Jesus treats us.

The same is true for those of us who have decided to become followers of Jesus. We've taken an oath to follow God and His teaching. An oath to share with others the amazing wonders He brings to us.

In return God's made an oath to us. Jesus has promised us eternal life. A life which surpasses that ultimate barrier, death.

Have you spoken aloud that oath you've given to Jesus? If you haven't made that oath yet what will it take for you to make that oath? Maybe it's time to begin looking at the promises you've made and see which ones are really important. Which promises have you made which will impact your life here and, literally, forever?

+Tom Leary

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Hebrews 7:1-17

Today's reading, I think, is difficult to understand after a quick read through. One needs to read it slowly, carefully, and thoughtfully to understand its meaning. If one does not, it would be easy to go right through it and miss its meaning.

I feel the main point of this reading deals with a living Christ who is today at the right hand of the Father.

If the Mosaic Law and the Jewish priest had been able to save people, why would God have needed to send a Savior into the world? The animal sacrifices that were conducted prior to Jesus had to be repeated on a frequent basis. Thus, they only brought temporary forgiveness. The sacrifice Jesus made for us was offered only once and brought permanent and total forgiveness. Under the new covenant, priest no longer had to come from the tribe of Levi and no longer had to interpret God's word for us. Jesus, our high priest, while in human form spoke directly to us and He continues speaking directly to us today while sitting at the right hand of the Father. Before Jesus came to us in human form, the teachings of the high priest were the foundation to which the Jewish people lived their lives. As our high priest, Jesus' teachings must be front and center in our lives; our foundation.

It can be easy to forget that Jesus is our high priest, especially when we face trials in our lives. However, we must always remember who is our high priest and follow His word and example. No one is perfect, but it helps me when the trials of daily life get me off track to remember our high priest's teachings to love God, love our neighbors, and to be a witness for Jesus.

May God bless you,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Hebrews 6:13-20

Time for a trick question ├íla Sesame Street… Which of these things does not belong?

a) Cross my heart, hope to die!
b) I swear on my grandmother’s grave!
c) On my honor!
d) I swear to… Me?

The trick, of course, depends on who is doing the speaking.

The first three are childhood oaths many of us have uttered at one time or another to indicate the sincerity and seriousness with which we had made a promise. As with all other oaths, these were made to add solemnity to a promise, guarantee integrity of the promiser and provide comfort to the promisee. Anyone could make a promise but if they crossed their heart and hoped to die, well then they really meant to keep it. Really! Really!

So, what do we do make of option d) above? At first glance, it seems rather flippant if not downright blasphemous. But let’s take a deeper look at it in light of verse 13: "When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself." Think about this for a moment and it only makes sense that the God of all creation has no other way to confirm that His promises are secure than by oath to Himself. There is no one greater….

One of the things I’ve tried to instill in my children is that God created them for a specific purpose and with a specific plan in mind for their lives. He has a specific plan and purpose for you, too. Because of His integrity and the surety of His promises, because there is no one greater, we can know that He really means to fulfill it. Really! Really!

Take a moment right now and offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the comfort of His most reliable word and for the specific purpose and plan He has for you. Ask him to further reveal that plan to you and give you the strength and courage to act on it. There is no one greater you could be doing it for. Really! Really!

Mark Vereb

Monday, May 09, 2005

Hebrews 6:1-12

The author of Hebrews wrote primarily to Jewish Christians – Jewish people who had become believers in Jesus as Messiah, as Savior and Lord. In this particular passage he encourages them in two qualities of faithful living: growth and diligence. To get the full meaning in today’s reading, we should go back to chapter five, start at verse eleven, and then read chapter six, verses one through twelve. At the end of chapter five, the author characterizes his readers as infants, still drinking milk instead of eating solid food. Though they may be chronologically mature, they are spiritually immature. They have stayed babies in Jesus instead of growing into adults in Jesus. Some have even fallen back into pre-Jesus ways of thinking, worshiping, and behaving. This is worse than remaining a spiritual infant! Against these tendencies to stay spiritually immature or even revert to a pre-Jesus lifestyle, the author urges spiritual growth and faithful diligence as essential qualities. To be a true and faithful believer in Jesus is to grow spiritually. It is to follow him diligently. Why grow spiritually, and why follow Jesus diligently? Because Jesus is utterly worthy. He is the creator of the universe and heir of all things; he is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s being; he sustains all things, including you and me, by his life-giving word. (See Hebrews 1:1-4.) He gave us his best and his all. He wants our best and our all. This is why we must grow in spiritual maturity and diligence. How can we grow in spiritual maturity and diligence? There are many ways. Yet there are certain chief ways, when we live in the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow spiritually and to follow Jesus diligently: regular worship, both individual and corporate; regular study of God’s Word; regular prayer; regular fellowship with other believers; and regular acts of love for family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. God is just and loving. Through his Spirit, he will nurture and mature us when we worship, study, pray, socialize, and love as true followers of Jesus.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Ephesians 2: 1-10

Today’s passage presents us with a choice. We can “let the world, which doesn't know the first thing about living, tell you how to live,” as the Message translates the first sentence of verse two.

Or we can become God’s workmanship. It’s an interesting phrase, most likely drawing on the imagery of the many artists practicing their craft in the city of Ephesus, a city well know for its devotion to the arts. Paul is saying that our lives, too, can be a work of art.

How? By embracing the salvation offers to us in Jesus Christ. And it turns out that when we do this we don’t just kick back and wait to enter Heaven as our God given right, but we do the “good works which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (vs. 10, NIV). To accept the gift of salvation that God freely offers us in Christ is to take the path he prepared ahead of time for us to walk.

When we do this, we make the choice to stop following “the course of this world” and “the spirit that is at work among those who are disobedient.” We choose instead to become God’s glorious “masterpiece”. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

I was at a meeting at 7:30 this morning, Saturday. Part of what we were meeting about was to fix the handicap ramp near the front of the church to make it more accessible for wheel chairs.

When I left the office at 11AM to go do a wedding, one of the men from our meeting was already out in the parking lot fixing the problem. It was clearly hard work; though it was a cool morning, he had already worked up a sweat.

Clearly there were a lot of things he could’ve done with his day; things most people would do with their Saturdays. But he chose to do God’s work instead.

That’s the choice this passage presents us. Which way will we go?

Rob Merola+

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Hebrews 5:7-14

This section of the book of Hebrews (author unknown) addresses the priesthood of Jesus, the spiritual infancy of his readers, and what must be done to achieve spiritual maturity, but it begins with the excruciating suffering and praying of Jesus (at Gethsemane).

Even with full knowledge of the importance of His suffering and death on the cross, Jesus experienced despair. Yet, He learned to obey God so that He could learn how difficult it can be for us to accept God's will.

When we are faced with trying circumstances -- a serious illness, a broken relationship, unemployment, the sudden death of a loved one, etc. -- we are tempted to question, to despair, to be angry. I remember feeling that way when I first lost a loved one. I was 10 years old, and my sister and her 3-month-old daughter, Margaret, were staying with us. I loved that baby. One morning, before leaving for school, I looked in on her. She was in her crib. She lifted her head and looked at me. I smiled at her, and I left. Within an hour, she had joined God.

I do find great comfort in knowing that Jesus understands the suffering every one of us has ever experienced. I do believe that explains how and why He often seems to anticipate our needs. Knowing what is to come and how it will affect us, He provides that chance meeting with someone who gives us guidance, that welcome phone call when we feel alone, the loyal friends to be His understanding heart, His comforting hands, His arms around us.

It was only years later, after I'd grown in my faith, that I recognized the gift He'd given me with that brief moment of eye contact with my Margaret. I still remember.

Thank you, Jesus, for suffering so that You could understand what I needed then, what I need now, and what I'll need tomorrow. Thank you for anticipating and for providing. May each one of us grow in our faith and learn to trust in You always. Amen.

Martha Olson

Friday, May 06, 2005

Hebrews 4:14-5:6

Being in the natural world is so soothing after a day at work. This week on my after-work walk, deep in thought about my day, I surprised a bunny on the path. He startled me as he bounded away, startled, and I realized that he must have been busy thinking about his day, too.

Shortly after agreeing to write this devotional I said something I regretted; a slip of the tongue. Humbled, I thought, what then shall I call this week’s effort, “Mrs. Grumpy Holds Forth?”

I turned to a devotional which my husband, a gardener, received as a gift. It is called Inheiriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening by Vigen Guroian, and it contains spiritual reflections connecting gardening to the church year.

The part about weeding made a big impression on me. Guroian talks about how deeply imbedded some of those weeds are, like sins which take a lifetime to root out. The roots of weeds can be deep and pervasive and it seems an impossible task to get them all out as I kneel in the garden. When I am so quick to err it reminds me how likewise, my sins can be deeply rooted. So I may call this devotional, “Kneeling. Weeding.”

In life, as in the garden, kneeling is a good place for me to start. Hebrews 4:15-16 talks about finding mercy from Jesus, our great high priest, who can sympathize with my weakness. By God’s mercy, over time, He can work on the weeds which are so much a part of my makeup.

Thank You, Jesus, for being a sympathetic High Priest. Thank you for having the patience, for being willing to take the time to do all that weeding.

Linda Merola

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Hebrews 2:5-18

Here we have an explanation as to why Jesus came to be with us. Not because the Old Testament says it would happen, bet because we are all part of the same family.

My brother James and I didn't get along very well growing up. That's a bit of an understatement since we fought quite a bit, I have no idea how my parents or extended family put up with us. In spite of that I have always loved him with every fiber of my being. When things went wrong in his life I was really distraught and wished I could help him. When things went well I was happier than I can ever express. While I may not have ever said it outright to him, I would do anything for James. Fly out on a moments notice or give support as much as I can, even if he doesn't know about it.

I know some of us may not enjoy spending time with extended family. Growing up it was a time to be joked at (I took a while to begin joking back) and bored. It was still wonderful to have people I could count on, people who I’ve grown incredibly close to over the years. They loved me regardless of what I did or how my brother and I fought. Today I still know if I need a shoulder to cry on or want someone to share in my joys, they will all be eager to listen.

This is what we're being taught right here. All families may not be perfect with some being very, very broken. But there is an ultimate family we belong to. A family where all of Gods believers belong. A family where Jesus belongs.

Jesus was made exactly like us. In every way he was like us. Jesus is that person who can hold our hand and truly understand what we're going through. He's that brother who will always help us live the best life we can, openly and behind the scenes. In the end we'll get to spend the rest of eternity sharing our stories again and again.

As you read through this passage notice the beauty of the words (they’re very poetic) and the meaning of this message... Brothers.


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

James 5:13-18

This passage in the Bible, although short, is extremely insightful to me regarding the power of prayer. It helps me to reflect on this passage often as I sometimes forget how powerful and wonderful prayer is.

The passage begins by reminding us to pray in times of trouble and in times of happiness. All of us experience both of these times during our lives. When we are in trouble we sometimes might think God is uncaring or unable to help so we might pray less. This passage reminds us that God is just the opposite and we should pray for His help. When we are in a time of happiness we might get complacent and pray to God less often. Again the passage today reminds us that we should pray just as often to God and thank Him for the happiness we feel and the things that make us feel happy. I certainly have had these feelings in my life; this passage helps me to remember to pray as I hope it helps to remind you to pray too.

The passage continues by telling us that when we are sick we should ask the people of the church to pray for us. The verse reminds us that as members of a church we are not alone - we are all members of the body of Christ. As such we should be able to count on others to offer prayers for us, especially when we are sick or suffering. I know I can find it embarrassing to ask someone else to pray for me. I guess I am embarrassed to admit that I am suffering. If you have that feeling too we need to get over it and ask fellow Christians to pray for us. The faith of the person praying for us is very powerful indeed.

One of a Christian's most powerful resources is communion with God through prayer. Thus please remember to pray often for your own needs and the needs of others.

May God by with you,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

James 1:16-27

James is one of my favorite New Testament letters because it is so full of practicality and immediate "apply"-ability. Take for instance, verse 19: "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."

Many of us have heard the saying, "God gave us TWO ears and ONE mouth, so we should LISTEN twice as much as we SPEAK." That would certainly be the case if we were quick to listen and slow to speak. But it’s the rest of the verse that usually gives me problems for, in many ways, it deals with what I say when I do speak (and even more so, how I say it). I have found that when I am quick to become angry, quite often it is precisely because I haven’t taken the time to listen.

As you might guess, it is with my family that I most often express my anger. And while to some extent that falls into the "you always hurt the one you love" category, I have noticed something else. The speed with which I am likely to express my anger depends somewhat on the measure of authority I hold in the relationship. I most freely get angry with my children (the worst way to use authority in the relationship); less so with my wife or others in "equal" relationships; seldom, if at all, with those who are in authority over me. For example, my supervisor has never heard me yell at him. In fact, him I’m usually willing to listen to.

We see throughout the Bible that we ought to humble ourselves. Of course that doesn’t mean that we ought to toss aside the authority entrusted to us but we should use it in the right way. We should follow the example that Jesus set and become more humble and servant-like in all our relationships. As that happens, I’m sure we’ll find that we are quicker to listen, slower to speak and even slower to become angry. And wouldn’t that be better all the way around?

Mark Vereb

Monday, May 02, 2005

James 1:1-15

James was a leader in the early church the fellowship of believers followingthe life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Those believers were transformed by Jesus. They had new life in him. In day to day circumstances, they sought to live in changed ways ways rooted in and stemming from Gods grace and lovein Jesus. Those early Jesus-believers found that the world around them did not always welcome the life Jesus called them to live. They also found that transformation within themselves and in their relationships with others involved a process a growingout of a pre-Jesus lifestyle and into a new Jesus-lifestyle. In short, while they experienced new life, they still faced trials (adversity from without) and temptations (adversity from within). James therefore wrote to encourage themin practical terms about how to live in transformed attitudes and behaviors each day. Face trials with joy, for trials can yield maturity. Ask God, with faith and single-mindedness, for wisdom in how to live. Place confidence and hope in God, not in worldly status and riches. Resist temptation without putting the temptation on God, for temptation comes from ones self. Today I read what James wrote. My head says yes but my heart says how. I fit part of this passage all too well being doubtful and double-minded. How can I face trials with joy, ask for wisdom with faith and single-mindedness, place confidence and hopein God, and resist temptation? I find I cannot do these things when I start with myself my own perspectives, desires, and strengths. When I start with myself, they do not even make sense. When, however, my starting point is Jesus his perspectives, his desires, his strengths I see everything differently. I see everything in a new light, in a new life. It begins to make sense. Moreover, with Jesus as my starting point with newlife in Jesus as the ground in which I root I live out of his perspectives, desires, and strengths; and I find I can grow in facing trials and temptations in newness and holiness of life.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Timothy 3:14-4:5

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, 15if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. 16Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great:
Hea was revealed in flesh,vindicatedb in spirit,cseen by angels,proclaimed among Gentiles,believed in throughout the world,taken up in glory.

4 Now the Spirit expressly says that in laterd times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. 3They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; 5for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.

Unspiritual Spirituality and Spiritual Unspirituality

In these verses, as in the entire section before them (1 Timothy 2:1 – 3:13) Paul is writing to give practical instruction on Christian behavior.

It is interesting that he refers to the church as “the household of God”, because home is usually where people are most themselves. In other words, as Christians our spiritual life is to be marked by authenticity rather than show; by being “real” rather than “religious”.

Paul also refers to the church as “the pillar and bulwark of truth”. He’s primarily speaking of the truth as it was made known in Jesus, but it’s hard to escape the implications of our need to live and interact with that truth with honesty and integrity.

So it is that Paul goes on to say that sometimes things that look very spiritual—that demand great sacrifices of people, seemingly for God’s sake—are not really spiritual at all. In fact, he writes, they are actually hypocritical.

As examples he lists forbidding marriage and requiring abstinence from foods. The problem is that often these things make us look good instead of reflecting the goodness of God.

Real spirituality is receiving God’s good gifts with grateful hearts.

Interestingly, Paul concludes chapter 3 with a section of an ancient hymn. He knew the value of a catchy phrase or a good song to reinforce what he was teaching, and to make it stick. I don’t know about you, but I often find myself singing Sunday’s songs throughout the week (like go be a difference maker; go make a difference in the world!).

So…how is your spiritual life, really? Is your spiritual life built on the deep joy that comes from receiving God’s good gifts, or is it built on something else (like religious ritual or obligation). Does it bring you life, or does it drain energy away? Are you living your life as an expression of gratefulness for all God has done for you?

And finally, one last question, one that I’ve been having fun toying with: What kind of song have you allowed God to place in your heart?