Monday, October 31, 2005

Revelation 10:1-11

Generally, we like to have more control over our life rather than less control. This is certainly true for me. Many messages in our culture reinforce this desire. In fact, they foster the expectation we can virtually control our life and destiny in terms of wealth, physical looks, relationships, aging, and more.

In contrast, we come to one of the profound truths dramatized over and over in the Revelation to John. God rules the cosmos. This includes your life and mine. Yes, we have some control over our life, but it is limited. It is actually a falsehood broadcast in our world – estranged from and set against God – that we should and can be the controller of our life.

The reality is we are limited beings. There simply is much we cannot control. After so many “natural” disasters in the last year, we should well understand this anew. We are limited because we are creatures, not the creator. God made us, not we ourselves. We depend on God for life and for quality of life.

This does not mean we loll about in life, weak and passive. We act, for God made us to be actors in the world. But we act under God’s rule, under his guidance and care for the world, for you, and for me. God made us to live in faithful dependence on him. We live thus by letting him shape and direct us in accord with his holy character and his good and loving purposes for us, for others, and for creation.

With all of this in mind we find hope – good news! – in today’s passage from the Revelation to John: “[T]he mystery of God will be accomplished….” God is Lord – creator, redeemer, sustainer of the cosmos, and even of your life and mine. He will accomplish that which he has promised to do in the world and in us.

May we fully depend on this good news! May we give ourselves to God, to what he will accomplish for us and through us when we live in faithfulness to him. For, from beginning to end, God’s desires and purposes for us are wondrously good; and we need only give ourselves to him in faith, hope, and love to live and to live well in his steadfast, tender care.

Gregory Strong

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Revelation 7:4-17

The best-seller lists of the past few years have been well sprinkled with books that purport to "crack the code" on one or another ancient mystery, and the Revelation has been subject of such books long before the current fashion. There was a time in my life when I might have been more interested in clues and esoterica, but that is not my interest now.

What captivates me now in this passage is this awe-inspring scene where a vast multitude of people (I should say, "peoples") from every nation are praising God in an all-filling chorus:

Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!

If one is counting, there is that number 7 again, 7 attributes of our God that the peoples, that white-robed incalculably numerous choir, are praising in their hymn day and night. They have excellent reasons for their praise: they have been through the great ordeal (or Tribulation). And now the Lamb, the Lamb whose blood was shed for them, so that by his death they are made pure and spotless, has become their Shepherd and their source of life. Nothing can harm them now. And, in the most comforting promise that has ever been made,

God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

John on Patmos had seen a lifetime of pain and had survived the best efforts of those who wanted to silence him forever. Thank God that he lived to see this vision and record it for the millennia of those who have suffered and still will suffer for the Good News of the Kingdom.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Rev. 6:12-7:4

This passage, like some of Revelation, is concerned with judgement. We know that the book of Revelation contains many word pictures, prophecies, “fantastic” things. I turned to writer and poet Eugene Peterson to help me understand Revelation. I love the introductions he has written to each book of the Bible in the paraphrase Bible The Message.

In his introduction to Revelation he writes about worship, “Our times are not propitious for worship. The times never are. The world is hostile to worship. The devil hates worship…” As we see the majesty and power of Christ in these verses we can worship our Lord, who will judge and rule. Verses 6:15ff describe how everyone, rich and poor will be afraid of the power of Christ.

In Rev. 1:17 when John sees a vision of Jesus he “fell at his feet as though dead.” Jesus reassures him, “Do not be afraid… I am the living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever.” To me, Jesus says in these verses, I rule over death and I will rule over the earth forever.

Another clue to “figuring out” Revelation is to look, as in any other New Testament book, at the first phrases of the book. Rev. 1:1 reads, “A revealing of Jesus, the Messiah.” (the Message). The paragraph continues… How blessed the hearers and keepers of these oracle words, all the words written in this book!...

Time is just about up. (Rev. 1:3, The Message). (That simple phrase is set apart).

So it seems to say to us, who are about to begin our day this Friday, set aside some time to think about how Jesus is worthy of our worship, and , “time is just about up;” Jesus will redeem the earth and make it new and we worship Him.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Revelation 5:11-6:11

One way to express a truth is simply to express it factually. “Racism is wrong”. But another way to express that same truth is show it in pictures without ever making the literal statement.

For instance, I just saw the film Crash. It literally made me weep at how messed up this world can be because of how we mistreat each other. Racism is wrong, but that statement doesn’t move like the images I saw on film.

Revelation is expressing truth as surely as any factual statement, but it’s using images rather than literal words. If you understand the images, which are rooted both in a type of literature called “Apocalyptic” and in Biblical history, you understand the power of what is being portrayed here.

Take this passage for instance, at the four horses of the apocalypse. Will such horses one day really ride the earth? I’d suggest they do so now as they have throughout human history. The horses represent such things as political power, war and violence, injustice and poverty, death.

The horses ride through history in battles between nations; corporate scandals that cheat and defraud; in terrorism. But they also ride in homes torn apart by conflict; wherever children live in neglect and fear; and wherever “good” people are willing to manipulate or hurt others.

These riders seem to ride roughshod over the earth, and sometimes it even seems they trample the church underfoot as well. And so we hear the voice of an anguished church, of real people who have suffered at the hands of the world for their faithful service to Christ.

What are we to make of that?

The answer is in the next image of those who have overcome the world; who have transcended it, risen above the power of the horses; and hence are beyond the reach of the suffering they cause. This is the victory the white robe represents—a robe “given” to them, showing the need for God’s grace and help to able to receive it.

Very quickly, note two other things. First—rest. Oh how I long for that! Sometimes the battles here take such a toll… but it won’t always be that way.

Not also that those in robes are numbered. God counts. Why? Because He is not willing that any of his children should perish. I have two kids. Whenever we go anywhere, I always count to be sure the both are there. “Counting” is a way of expressing how very precious God’s children are to him.

God will rescue, friends. You matter to Him. That’s what this chapter teaches, and that is a truth—whether said in words or in images—you can count on as sure as sure can be.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Revelation 5:1-10

What a wonderful book Revelation is. It is filled with wonderful symbolism and beyond this world images. This particular reading is no different.

As one could write much about many of the verses in Revelation, I am only going to discuss a few of them from today's reading. Let's begin with verse 4. John is weeping because he cannot see inside the scroll God is holding. In verse 5 an elder tells John to stop weeping. We do not need to weep because we cannot foresee future events. It would be great if we could foresee future events about ourselves or the world, but this information would not help us with our present duties God has given each of us to perform. The only future event we need to know has been revealed to us - Jesus Christ will prevail over evil and His followers will enjoy an eternal peace. This future event should be sufficient comfort to allow each of us to focus on the present and be the best Christian we can be.

Now let's discuss verses 5 & 6. Jesus Christ is pictured as both a lion and a lamb. The lion symbolizes authority and power while the lamb symbolizes submission to God's will. Christ the lamb was the perfect sacrifice for our sins and defeated all forces of evil by dying on the cross. Christ the lion will lead the battle in which Satan is finally defeated. Christ the lion will be victorious because of what Christ the lamb has already done.

Finally let's take verses 9 & 10. These verses describe a song that is sung to and about Jesus. The song praises Jesus Christ for the work he has done and is going to do, however, it is all in the past tense He was slain, purchased us with His blood, gathered us into His kingdom, made us priests, and appointed us to reign on earth. It is written as if it already happened because it is a guaranteed certainty. Jesus has already died and paid the penalty for our sin. He is now gathering us into His kingdom and making us His priests. In the future we will reign with Him. Knowing this we should worship God and thank Him for what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do for all who trust in Him. With this glorious future we all can find the strength to follow His commandments, live in His will, and face our present difficulties.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Revelation 4:1-11

Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

WOW! Today’s reading is a mind bender. John was on some high quality stuff when he wrote this. I think (know) the stuff is called GOD.

Last Tuesday we talked about the physical and spiritual nature of man. This week, John takes us directly into our spiritual world. He “reveals” what awaits our spiritual self. Revelations 4 is a series of images of Heaven that waits for us. John uses our physical senses to communicate a spiritual reality. Not an easy thing to do. He starts with the open door to heaven. Get that? – an OPEN door. Heaven is ready for us and we are expected and welcome. It is hard to ignore the blast of a trumpet so we will be welcomed with clarity and fanfare.

John acknowledges that he is “in the Spirit”. What he is describing is a spiritual experience. Though he used physical images it is clearly a spiritual experience. It would be difficult (impossible?) to understand what all this means if you didn’t acknowledge your own spiritual reality. John's revelations require a certain level of spiritual understanding.

He describes God on his throne, the surrounding elders with crowns and the living creatures with eyes. His use of color, sound, smell and size creates for me a sense of awe, smallness and humbleness. I won’t pretend to understand the meaning of these images. At my age, I am well beyond trying to figure it out. I don’t need to. His description does not describe Jesus' presence specifically. Has our risen Lord taken on these spiritual forms to represent the world he saved?? Who knows?

What I do know is that God is awesome. He resides in heaven and he welcomes me there. Together with all those who have gone before me and all the other spiritual realities there, we will all bow down and worship God on his throne of Power singing “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY IS THE LORD GOD ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS, IS AND IS TO COME.”

This stuff just gets better and better.

John Dickie

Monday, October 24, 2005

Revelation 1:4-20

With this reading we take flight for days of soaring through the last book of the Bible – the Revelation to John. By turns, the ride will mystify, illuminate, exhilarate, and even inspire us. Sometimes it will do all of these at once!

In English, the word “revelation” refers to knowledge that was previously unknown. For example, it came as a revelation to me when my mother recently told me my nose was not truly broken when, at age four, I fell off my toy chest while trying to change my clothes and landed on my face. For many years I believed, mistakenly as it happens, my nose had been broken then. There was plenty of pain and blood, a “butterfly stitch,” and a lasting scar to support my belief!

“Revelation” in this book’s title translates the Greek word “apocalypsis,” the first word in the original text (Revelation 1:1). “Apocalypsis” means revelation or disclosure of knowledge, or of a person’s character or purposes. We get our English word “apocalypse” from this word. However, we often use “apocalypse” to refer to strange or cataclysmic events, and we tend to associate it with the end of history or time. There is much in the Revelation to John to support this use and association.

Yet, while on our wild, mystifying, and exhilarating flight through the images, symbols, and events of the Revelation to John, we must also keep in sight the “revelation” meaning of “apocalypsis.” John received from Jesus what Jesus knew of God – knowledge of God’s character and plans, especially in and through Jesus. This book then reveals the ultimate nature and saving purposes of God Almighty, the creator, redeemer, and ruler of the universe. This God is – to use the beginning and ending letters of the Greek alphabet – Alpha and Omega. He is the first, the last, and everything in between of the entire cosmos, of all time and space.

Hence, as we read Revelation, and as we live, we should fall on our faces – truly broken by sin and death, now raised and healed in Jesus – to reverence this glorious God, our Alpha and Omega. For, with saving power and love, God is the first, last, and everything of your life and mine, of all the times and places that mark our lives. He is worthy of all our worship and love.

Gregory Strong

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Philemon 1-25

Paul writes this letter to Philemon on behalf on Onesimus. Paul asks Philemon to forgive his former slave and to accept him as his brother, as a fellow Christian. Onesimus had run away (and possibly stolen) from Philemon. Now a Christian, Onesimus has repented and wants to make things right with Philemon, but he fears receiving the culturally deserved punishment.

What struck me about this letter was its genial tone, the eloquent words, and the gracious approach Paul took in dealing with this matter.

Paul could have commanded Philemon to free Onesimus, but instead of using authority, Paul used words of love, words that allowed Philemon to make his own choice (just as God gives us free will).

Paul could have decided to keep Onesimus with him and not say a word to Philemon. But Paul chose to be truthful with Philemon and to give Onesimus the opportunity to make things right with Philemon.

Paul could have placed the burden on Onesimus to return to Philemon and handle things himself, even if it meant receiving his punishment. Instead, Paul took the time to write this beautiful letter on behalf of his fellow Christian.

Each of us has probably been, to some degree, in a position like Philemon's -- wronged and fully justified in seeking restitution under the law. I'm sure you'd agree that it's not easy to descend from such a righteous position and to relinquish the satisfaction of justice. It's not easy to say, "That's fine. Don't worry about it. Yes, I forgive you." Each of us has probably been, to some degree, in situations like the one Onesimus cornered himself into -- sinning, then repenting, wanting forgiveness, and fearing punishment. But we have nothing to fear, for God IS righteous and able to exact His justice, and because Jesus has written His own letter for us, God has forgiven us.

Dear God, we pray for the grace to live our lives guided by love. May we repent when we've sinned. May we forgive when we've been wronged. May we always choose to do the right thing, whether or not we're approached with the eloquent words of love. Amen.

Martha Olson

Friday, October 21, 2005

1 Corinthians 16:10-24

Well, I must admit - I'm having a hard time writing about this passage. You see, I am not a Bible scholar. That is why I love going to Bible studies and I love learning about the Bible. I don't get to go as often as I like, but reading the Bible on my own is sometimes not enough. This is where I am with this passage. This is the last passage of the Book of 1st Corinthians. It is typical in the Epistles for the last passage to contain specific instructions and requests of the writer and these are usually about specific people or things that are germane to that time and place. But, you have to be "in the know" of the time to understand it. And I am certainly not that.

It does remind me, though, of what incredibly hard work it must have been for the apostles to go out in the world and build the church. They could not merely walk about and speak the word of the Lord. They had to also worry about the details. Paul, here, is concerned about the type of welcome Timothy will be given and about Apollos' travel schedule. Then Paul seems to "dis" the Corinthians with this sentence: I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. Ouch!

But that, of course, is why the Lord chose those whom he did. Paul was not a God and did not want to be treated as anything special. He made his own travel arrangements and wrote his own letters without a secretary! In fact, earlier in this chapter (15:9), Paul says that he is the least of the apostles and not even deserving of being called an apostle because he doubted the church of God. So, the little details are not beneath him. In fact, I would venture to guess that, based upon his letters, he depended on many of those details to get his lofty work done.

He also wanted the people to know that following Jesus meant living in love in the most fundamental of ways - nothing fancy just honest and pure. Throughout this passage, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the love requirement. Indeed, the 13th chapter of Corinthians is known as the love chapter and is often used during wedding services. Here he gives specific instructions for how to treat certain individuals with love, and he states, simply, "Do everything in love."

Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone did just that? Well, since I can't control anyone but myself, I will vow to follow that to my best ability and then some. (But, I think I need to go to a few more Bible studies to find out who all these people are!)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

1 Corinthians 16:1-9

Wow! What a change up! Paul goes from talking about the resurrection of Jesus and its implications for us straight to talking about money. Seems a little abrupt, doesn’t it?

But maybe it’s not. The thrust of chapter 15—that we too will be raised from the dead just as Jesus was-- has been to move us from what is temporary to what is eternal; from what is perishable to that which is imperishable; from a materialistic way of life to living spiritually.

In that context, the practice of giving away our money makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? It helps make sure that our focus is in the right place; that we aren’t becoming too attached to things material and so choking out the life of faith.

I notice a few things about giving from this passage: it is to be a regular discipline; the money is to be given in faith at the beginning of the week, not out of what (if any) might be left when the week is done; and we are to give in accord with our income (the Message rightly catches the meaning of this in translating it, Be as generous as you can).

I figure people who are taking the time and trouble to read this are probably pretty serious about their spiritual life. God bless you in that. Will you allow me to be radical for a moment?

As I understand it, the ultimate guide in giving for Christians isn’t the tithe; it’s the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. So the real question—and I’ve admitted up front I’m being radical here, that I may well have gone off the deep end, and what I now write may be utter foolishness—but the real question isn’t “Have I given my 10%” and so am free (entitled?) to enjoy the rest as I see fit, but “Would Jesus acquire like I’ve acquired; would Jesus use his money like I use my money; would he own the things I own; would he…?” well, you get the picture.

I’ll be the first to admit those are hard questions to ask. I am not entirely comfortable asking them even of myself let alone suggesting them for others. But if we did ask them, friends…if we did…might our world look more like the Kingdom Jesus died to create?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

1 Corinthians 15:51-58

As we read this passage of scripture we must remember that once again Paul is dealing with a subject matter that defies language and expression. We must take it on faith and not try to use our small human brains to dissect it as if it were a scientific thesis. Paul's argument follows a series of steps until it reaches its climax.

(1) Paul insists that we are not fit to inherit the Kingdom of God. We may be well enough equipped to get on with life in this world but for the life of the world to come we are not. As an example, a person may be in good enough shape to run a short distance to catch a bus, car, or train that is about to leave, but that same person would have to be in a vastly different shape to competitively run in an Olympic marathon. Paul argues that we need to be changed prior to entering the Kingdom of God.

(2) Paul goes on to say that no one should fear this change. Why do people fear death? Perhaps it is the fear of the unknown. Or perhaps it is the fear of sin. As long as we see God as a judge we would be the equivalent of a criminal standing before a judge in a court room with no hope of acquittal. But this is why Jesus came to the earth. He came to tell us that God is not about judging but about love. Through God's grace Jesus took the punishment we deserve and thus victory over death. Thus, death should not be feared for it is in death that allows us to go home to our Heavenly Father.

(3) At the end of the passage, Paul does what Paul does often. He challenges us to live a good Christian life. I do not know about you but sometimes I hesitate to do a good deed because I will not obtain or see any immediate personal reward. But if we maintain a perspective on this life and an outlook that by living a good Christian life we will obtain the reward of all eternity with God, we would do the good we have the opportunity to do knowing this work has eternal returns.

The Christian life may at some times be a struggle, but the reward is infinitely worth the struggle.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

1 Corinthians 15:41-50

Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

The Christians of Corinth obviously inspired Paul. His letters to them are so full of truths. They are so simple and yet so deep in meaning; so direct and yet often ambiguous. He challenges his readers in many ways. Today’s reading is both simple and direct. He addresses the 2 natures of man. As always his source of knowledge is Jesus his and our risen Lord.

The physical and the spiritual nature of us all. The physical Jesus born to weakness and dishonor is perishable. The spiritual Jesus risen to Glory and eternal power is imperishable. His sprit resides with his Father in heaven forever. The Good News, we also are born to eternal life through Jesus. A very powerful message to the early church struggling to grasp the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection. The message that we must die and be reborn (risen) spiritually. It was a powerful and comforting message to the people of Corinth as it is for us today.

I only wish someone had written me such a letter when I was in my late teens and struggling to understand all this Jesus stuff. Of course the letter was there all the time. I just didn’t know about it. I was busy trying to figure it out like a math problem. There had to be some logical, evidence based proof that I could see. This was the physical me trying to put Jesus in my image. It didn’t work. The evidence was all around me but I couldn’t see it.

It took some growing and maturing before I could grasp the fact that I have a second nature. My spiritual reality opened up my eyes to a whole new life of belief and faith. The physical me could not inherit the kingdom of God and would perish. The spiritual me will inherit the kingdom through Jesus Christ and I will live with him in heaven with all other believers FOR EVER AND EVER.

This is really great stuff.

John Dickie

Monday, October 17, 2005

1 Corinthians 15:30-41

We really must read today’s passage from 1 Corinthians with the whole of chapter 15, wherein Paul urged the Corinthian Christians to understand the crucial reality of actual resurrection of the dead – first, the resurrection of Jesus; second, the resurrection of followers of Jesus. Some in the church in Corinth denied the resurrection of the dead. In verses 30 through 34, Paul completed his argument, begun in verse 1 of this chapter, for the reality of resurrection. Basing his position on the actual resurrection of Jesus, Paul maintained that God will raise followers of Jesus to new life after death. Paul staked his life and the lives of all Christians, not on a good and wise yet dead teacher, but on the living Jesus!

Then, having insisted on the fact of the resurrection of Jesus and the eventual resurrection of followers of Jesus, Paul in verse 35 moved into discussion of the nature of resurrection. It is as if he wrote, “I have explained why we must believe in Jesus’ actual resurrection and in the actual resurrection of followers of Jesus after death. Now, let us explore what this resurrected state will be like.” Beginning in verse 35, and continuing through the rest of chapter 15, Paul pictured, as best he could from the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, the wondrous nature of the resurrected state believers will enjoy after death.

Why did Paul argue all of this so passionately? Why is this crucial for him, for the Corinthians, for us?

If there is no resurrection, then Jesus has not been raised. If Jesus has not been raised, he is just dead. If he is just dead, someday we will be just dead. If Jesus has not been raised, and we will not be raised, we are in the same state now in life as if Jesus had never been born. We are lost in our sinfulness and mortality. We have no hope, not in this life nor in any other life. Sin and death sum our life.

But – thanks to God! – he did raise Jesus to new and glorious life. God will raise us, in Jesus, to new and glorious life. Crucified and raised, Jesus overcomes sin and death. Hence, his resurrected life sums our life. And so, in Jesus, we do have hope amid our sinfulness and mortality!

Gregory Strong

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Acts 16:6-15

How many times have you brought someone to Christ? How often have you been able to welcome someone to the church and bring them to baptism in Him? Being able to help lead just one person to God would make life worth living.

I've been blessed to have God has use me in many different ways to deepen someone's faith. I've had some simple conversations to help someone through a problem. I've led discussions on how God wants us to live our lives. I've been able to write about faith through the newsletter, my blog and these devotions.

Really the main way I've helped others toward God is the simplest of them all. Doing everything I can to live the life God has for me. By shining His light everywhere I can.

This passage helps remind me why it is I live this life and what I'm doing here on earth. I'm here to follow Peter and bring other lives to Christ. I may hit brick walls sometimes (okay, more than sometimes) or push someone harder than I should.

Thankfully I have the Spirit with me as a guide, leading me through roadblocks. He is also there to give me patience and wait for the time when a life is ready to be impacted. To show me that sometimes I need to change my direction to fulfill His work.

Isn't it great to know we have a guide living inside each of us? The Holy Spirit is giving us advice when we most need it. While my own free will may get in the way sometimes, I feel so good knowing that He will always be walking with me, and helping me grow His kingdom.


Saturday, October 15, 2005

1 Corinthians 15:12-29

Death is the Last Enemy to be Destroyed.

Why? In what sense was (and is) Death the enemy, and how will Death be destroyed?

In that time and in ours, Paul's (and the Church's) affirmation of the resurrection of the body of each believer was under attack, and not just from outside the faith. The Church at Corinth was subjected to the influences of Greek philosophy; today we contend with materialistic modernism. Paul contends for the resurrection fiercely, point piled on point, asserting that Christianity without a living Christ is dead and futile. Indeed, if there were no risen Christ they and we would have been wasting time. But it is that first resurrection that made and makes possible the resurrection of all believers.

Death is inevitable. In ways large and small we make plans to mitigate its effects. Fear of it can motivate us powerfully, and there are ways in which we rightly should fear it. But when fear of death diminishes our joy, makes us live less fully than we might, then that fear becomes destructive. But if we can see the great continuum, of our present unique person forward to that future mysterious-but-somehow-still-us in resurrected form, how much more could we live into our inheritance with Christ? And how much more important is it to assert that it is only through his resurrection that this became possible for us?

In the Nicene Creed we regularly afffirm "We believe in...the Resurrection of the body." It's in there as part of a list of things and perhaps we miss the significance of it: because of who Jesus Christ was and is, we're coming back to be with him!

There is one final footnote. It is an otherwise unexplained activity, this "baptism for the dead" that was going on. I think it needs to be taken at face value: that there was such a sense of urgencu among those believers to be reunited with their passed-on loved ones who never knew the faith, that they would be baptized by proxy for them. (This is not to assert that such a baptism would reclaim those whom only God can redeem. But the stakes were that high for them.)

And the stakes are still high today.


Friday, October 14, 2005

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

This passage seems like a re-listing of Gospel facts (Christ died-check. Christ rose again-check…) but as I thought about the passage I realized once again, what a gift our faith is. This passage is a list of blessings. Like Paul says in the end of the passage though, it’s all about GRACE. Sometimes by God’s grace I can see how blessed I am to have my faith, and like Paul I humbly thank God.

Right away in verse 2 that we are saved if we hold firmly to our faith. Both versions of the Bible I studied pointed out that some aren’t able to hold firmly to what they never had in the first place. I have seen people slip away from the faith and I can pray that they return. By contrast, I am surrounded by friends who have “held firm” with me in the faith, all these years. What a blessing. More and more lately at church I have experienced the joy of sharing our life together in Christ.

In the second paragraph of the passage Paul recounts the historical details of Jesus’ life; Jesus died, was buried and most importantly, was raised, and appeared to many witnesses. Although I go through many days without thinking of the resurrection, it is the basis of my faith, and Paul here says, don’t worry ,it is a fact, to those whose faith he shepherds. (I wonder what more I can do for those whose faith I care about).

In the last paragraph Paul just says, thank You. Thank You thank You, Jesus. It is by grace we are saved and it’s surely not something we deserve. We work for God but it is by His grace that we work. So we, together, are by grace, saying thanks.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

1 Corinthians 14:26-33,37-40

This is longer than usual, but I think it is important. I hope you will take the time to read it in its entirety. Thank you. –Rob Merola+

The astute among us will no doubt recognize this daily reading leaves out some verses. Here they are:

"Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. 36Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?" (NIV)

It’s not too hard to see why they left those verses out, is it? But I have to admit: I have a problem with that.

As an admitted maverick/renegade/nonconformist, I struggle with submission to authority. If there is one thing in my life above all others that leads me into sin, this is it.

Tell me to do one thing, I’ll naturally try and find a way to do something else. Set a limit for me, and I’ll try to find a way around or beyond it. Tell me I can’t, and doggone it I probably will.

So I take authority very seriously; for me it is a deeply spiritual issue. I understand that to be under the authority of something—like Holy Scripture—is to surrender oneself to its teachings, whether I like them or not, whether they “fit” my life or not, whether they seem right to me or not.

Now if because I don’t like what a passage teaches; if it doesn’t fit the way I live my life; or even if it doesn’t seem right to me (there are plenty of people who have done terrible things that seemed right to them but which ran contrary to Scripture); I begin to pick and choose what verses are actually Scripture and which verses are not, then Scripture is no longer my authority. I have become the authority over it, picking and choosing as I please, and the sin of my rebellion becomes complete.

Don’t misunderstand me here. I don’t believe in approaching the Bible uncritically. I’m all for asking hard questions about what it means. I love the saying “Jesus died to take away our sins, not our minds.” We do apply our reason to understanding what Scripture says (along with the Spirit’s guidance, tradition, and the larger voice of the Christian community). BUT WE ARE NOT FREE TO DETERMINE WHAT IS SCRIPTURE AND WHAT IS NOT IF WE ARE GOING TO ALLOW THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE TO SHAPE OUR LIFE.

So…what does that have to do with this verse? May I please ask you to follow this link to how the Message translates this chapter? It’s a paraphrase, to be sure, but I think it gets the point across.

Paul is talking to men (the previous verses) and women alike about order in this particular local church that is struggling with specific issues. It is not meant to be binding on the whole church; other Scripture and indeed the practices of Jesus and Paul himself make this clear (for instance, he clearly welcomes, supports, and works with women Deacons—women leading in other local churches).

The principle for everybody—and this is every bit as timely today as it ever was—is that no one has the right to put their own self interest above the good of the community.

Oh the grief the church would be spared if only people held to this principle, and the authority of the Scripture that teaches it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

1 Corinthians 14:13-25

Unlike last week's passage, I find the message a bit harder to discern in this week's passage. However, as in most, if not all, passages of scripture a message is there. After reading the passage about half a dozen times I think I found at least one message I can discuss here with you. (If you have not read the passage go ahead and read it so you can better understand my point. Of course different passages of scripture speak differently to each of us so you may find many easily understood messages - if you do I would love to hear from you about them.)

The message I received from this passage has to do with being understood. Paul refers to speaking in tongues and even seems to have an enthusiasm for this. Evidently the Corinthians do as well. Paul points out to the Corinthians that this enthusiasm can be carried to an extreme - just like many of us when we have an enthusiasm for something.

Paul tells the Corinthians that it would make Christianity seem ridiculous to a non-believer if that non-believer heard a sermon in a language which neither the preacher nor the assembly understood. However, if the preacher plainly interprets scripture in everyday language and simple words he might convert the non-believer to Christianity. Scripture truth, plainly and duly taught, has a wonderful power to awaken the conscience and touch the heart.

Words can have a powerful influence on people. The words you say and the words I say can change people. However, these words have to be understood by the receiver. I could read a Vector Calculus text book to a three year old hoping that three year old would learn the subject. Chances are he or she would not as they would get bored, think I am crazy, and would walk away. In the same token when we begin to discuss our believe and faith with those who have not experienced the joy of allowing Jesus Christ into their hearts we should start by teaching the basic concepts first. Concepts that can be easily understood. One of the most basic concepts is that of love.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

1 Corinthians 14:1-12

Today’s reading immediately follows the "Love Chapter" where we are told what love is and is not, what love does and doesn’t do. This chapter is often extracted for reading at marriage ceremonies. One of the benefits of a disciplined reading of the Bible, however, is that we get to see familiar passages in the full context of the book in which they appear. For example, the love chapter is preceded by a passage on spiritual gifts. While Paul describes various gifts and how they are essential to the body of Christ, they are worthless to us unless they are used in love.

Today’s passage continues by showing us the "way of love." We are reminded again to eagerly desire spiritual gifts but particularly the gift of prophecy. When we hear of prophecy, we may tend to think of bearded men dressed in camel hair clothes walking through the city streets declaring doom and gloom on its inhabitants. Paul, however, shows us a different side of prophecy.

A prophecy is a message from God. Sometimes that message may come in the form of a warning; it may also declare things that will happen in the future. But Paul tells us to yearn for the gift of prophecy so that we may strengthen, encourage and comfort the body of Christ, the church. How is this done? It can be as simple as telling someone they are doing a great job; it can be in listening to someone who needs a shoulder to cry on; it can be letting someone know that you see in them a particular strength. Each of these are simple things but they are also very effective in building up the church (and they can be done without camel hair clothes).

Of course, prophecy is not the only spiritual gift. There are many kinds and many people have more than one spiritual gift. If you would like to learn more about spiritual gifts and specifically what your spiritual gifts are, sign up for the Network Workshop on Saturday, October 22. It is a great way of building up the church.

Monday, October 10, 2005

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

In our society, many things are promoted as the thing or things that will mark our life as good, valuable, or successful. Status-markers include money, material goods, physical looks, athletic prowess, work, social connections, power, and the like. These are advanced as worthy of our desiring, striving, and even sacrificing. The possession of one or several marks a person as good, valuable, or successful in life.

Even in the church, many things are held up as marks of good, valuable, or successful church-goers. Sometimes these come from what society values – money, material goods, looks, work, social connections, power, and more. Sometimes other, more “churchly” things are promoted. These might include the amount of hours we volunteer, the number of activities we attend, the size of our pledge, the years we have gone to church, a particular denomination, and the like. The possession of one or several marks a person as good, valuable, or successful in the church.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13 of the one thing that truly matters: love. Today, we tend to link this passage closely with weddings. This connection is not bad as far as it goes. However, we must not limit its relevance to weddings, nor even to marriages. Especially we must not mistake its significance as largely sentimental – love as an emotion firmly affirmed but vaguely defined and only felt when easily practiced.

The context of 1 Corinthians 13 indicates Paul meant something more by love. The Corinthian Christians sought marks of spiritual status. By and large, these were good things: special abilities in earthly and heavenly languages; in teaching; in trusting God; in giving; and even in witness to Jesus. Yet, they lost sight of true spiritual maturity. Paul eloquently reminded them of what constitutes true spiritual maturity: love.

There are many unworthy status-markers in the world and the church. These should be rejected outright. Rather, we should desire and pursue those things that are truly worthy, especially God’s gifts and graces. Yet even the worthy are worthless except as they root in, stem from, and flower with love. The practice of love – as Paul wrote, as Jesus lived – is the one true gift and grace that remains, that endures. In the end, the mark of faithfulness to Jesus will be that we truly loved as Jesus loved.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Acts 14:8-18

When is the last time you were confused for a god? I know, I know it happens to me all the time too. It just gets so tiresome convincing those around me to stop sacrificing animals to me. Heh heh. Ok, seriously now.

Have you ever looked at someone and thought they were a god, or at least had godly powers? I know I have. Thinking back to high school when I was a shy, quiet guy at 16 convinced I would never be dateable. I tell you, any girl who gave me a second glad I would follow. I'd sacrifice anything for her (and with my first serious relationship I did sacrifice a lot, my money, my dignity and especially my morals). While I didn't really think she was a god (or goddess in this case) I sure tried to treat her like one.

How many other people in this world do we follow blindly?

To the crowd it looks as though Paul has performed a miracle, giving a man the power to walk. I know some Christ followers who would put down their beliefs and think Paul was a god. But the good news here is that it was the crippled man's faith which gave him the power to walk, no human performed that miracle. And so the crowd began to blindly follow Peter. Even after Peter and Barnabas told explained everything to them the crowd still wouldn't believe.

This same is true within our own lives. I often find myself looking to those around me, assuming they know more than I do. This happens a lot at work, but also at home. Somehow I seem to believe my wife is infallible, and I get frustrated when she makes mistakes. Other times I look to a boss or co-worker, assuming their answer to a problem must be the right one. There have been times in life I've looked to a priest or church leader, assuming their position within the church means they must know everything about how to live life (how to have a successful marriage, how to work through an addiction or even how to run a youth ministry program).

All of this is unfair. Unfair to the people I think know everything about anything, and unfair to myself. To know everything about anything there are only two places I should look... To God and to His Word.


Saturday, October 08, 2005

1 Corinthians 12:27-13:3

This passage of 1 Corinthians is one with which most of us are familiar. We are the body of Christ, and we are endowed with a variety of gifts, yet none has value without love. Paul refers to "love" as the more "excellent way."

It's easy to fool ourselves into thinking that our actions are motivated by love. So, how can we know? Is there a test? How is love reflected? Perhaps through an embrace, a smile, or words from others? What about that final reflection -- at your viewing?

When I was a little girl, I attended many funerals with my parents. That meant going to the viewing the night before. One such time, while my parents were engaged in conversation with friends, I decided to check out other areas of the funeral home. Two doors down, I noticed a viewing room with an open casket, but with no one around. I looked for the name of the deceased, but instead I found a notice. It read, "No Visitors." I was surprised to find such a notice in a funeral home. I glanced around. No one was near, so I walked up to the casket. The deceased was a man. He was dressed in a suit and tie. He wasn't very old. Maybe 60. I stared at him for awhile, and I felt sad. No one was there to speak about his life. No one was there to mourn his death. No one was there to pray for him. There were no pictures of him holding a baby or laughing with friends. I said a quick prayer for his soul, and I left.

The number of people at your viewing may not be indicative of whether or not you led a life guided by love, but their absence may speak volumes.

Will you find the excellent way to manifest your gifts, or will you speak in the tongues of angels, understand everything, sacrifice everything, yet gain nothing, be nothing, die only to never have existed in the hearts and minds and lives of others?

Dear God, please grant us the grace to use our spiritual gifts in the most excellent way we can, as Christians motivated by love. Amen.

Martha Olson

Friday, October 07, 2005

Matthew 9:27-34

I am a literal person. That can be good and that can be bad, depending on the situation. Sometimes, I have difficulty reading the Bible and knowing what exactly I am suppose to learn from a given passage because my literal self won't allow the analytical self to take over. This passage is one of those. I simply do not understand why Jesus told the blind men whose sight he had just restored not to tell anyone. That would certainly have been impossible for me to do. And, evidently, it was impossible for them as they quickly went out telling everyone what had happened.

Why did Jesus want them to keep this a secret? One reason could be that he knew that miracles such as this would get him into trouble. But, he knew that he was headed for death anyway. It doesn't make sense that he was afraid of trouble - he was walking deliberately into it. Maybe he did not want those whose sight he restored to risk being persecuted for their faith. That seems unlikely as well because Jesus was telling those of faith that their weight was heavy but theirs was the kingdom of God so they should not fear the pain and suffering they would endure because of their faith.

Perhaps Jesus was testing their faith. If so, they failed this second test although they had just passed the faith test which allowed their eyesight to be restored to begin with.

Jesus was so intentional in the words he spoke. He would not have said this out of emotion and then think, "Oh, well, that's okay. They are faithful so I'll forgive them this time." In fact, Matthew says that Jesus sternly ordered them not to tell anyone of this miracle. But why?

In Matthew 5 through 7, Jesus delivers his "Sermon on the Mount". During Jesus' preaching and teaching from the time of the Sermon on the Mount until his death, everything he does and says is, as I said earlier, very intentional. Not only does he need to demonstrate his divinity, but he needs to set the stage for his death and his resurrection. History must see the religious leaders of the day as the very persons whose lives demonstrated the antithesis of what God was all about. One of the things he preaches during the Sermon on the Mount was not to be boastful. He was particularly speaking of the hypocritical Pharisees and the religious rulers of those days who would preach one thing and live another.

Perhaps he told the two men he healed not to tell others about the miracle as a reminder that it would be boastful and hypocritical to just boast about the good works God has shown in our lives without allowing such miracles to change our lives. This is not to say that we should not bear witness of the great works of the Lord or be opennly thankful for all that He has given to us. In fact, the Bible tells us to do just that. However, that should not be the hallmark of living our lives through faith. Instead, our hearts are to be changed. This reminds me of the line from the song: They will know we are Christians by our love. The world doesn't recognize Christians by our boasting of the good God has brought to us. Instead, it's our hearts filled with the love and grace that only God can give to us through our own reincarnation.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, October 06, 2005

I Corinthians 12: 1-11

First the obvious. This passage begins a section “concerning spiritual gifts”, and even includes a “gift list”. Do you know your spiritual gifts? Are you diligently developing them? Are you faithfully using them?

Purity of the heart is to will one thing, wrote Soren Kierkegaard. Are you with great focus and clarity and devotion offering your gifts in the intentional building of God’s kingdom?

But then the less obvious. William Barclay says of verses 1-3 that they contain two battle cries: Let Jesus be cursed! and Jesus is Lord!

We expect the first to come from the world around us; if not literally, then figuratively as Jesus and his teachings are cast off as unrealistic and irrelevant and outdated.

But apparently this cry also came from within the church; people caught up in ecstatic utterances sometimes weren’t aware of what we were saying. Paul says that no matter how dramatic such displays may be, they are not of the Spirit.

And I wonder. Is there a message here to the church? In pursuing ever bigger and bigger churches, ever more grandiose and dramatic services, is it possible we find ourselves buying more into popular culture than what really mattered to Christ our Lord? Is it possible that as spectacular as some of our ministries may be, that they have in essence cast off Jesus as “accursed” to embracing the “blessing” of secular contemporary society around us?

Whatever the case may be, Paul clearly calls us to make the second proclamation our battle cry; the singularity around which our life revolves and which unleashes in it a power unlike any this world has ever known.

A lot is written; a lot is said; even Bibles themselves have become Big Business. But in the end it’s all pretty simple:

Is Jesus our Lord? Do we strive with all that is in us—with heart and passion and mind and soul and the very best we have to give—to humbly yield our whole life to Him?

Oh dear friends, may that be the deepest and truest cry of our hearts!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

1 Corinthians 11:23-34

No passage in the whole New Testament is of greater importance than this one (there may be others as important but I submit none of greater importance). It gives us our most sacred act of worship. If you have not read it, I encourage you to do so now.

What does the Last Supper mean? I do not think it was a spiritual accident that the meal in this passage occurred on Passover - in fact Jesus and His disciples were celebrating the Passover meal. Passover celebrated the deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Holy Communion celebrates our deliverance from sin by Christ's death on the cross.

I also find a very spiritual meaning when Jesus tells His disciples, and us, to eat the bread and drink the wine in "remembrance of me". I wonder how many of us, and certainly me included, really dwell on these words. These words are extremely important to Holy Communion. Jesus is telling us to think, meditate, and pray about what He did for us and why He did it. When Holy Communion becomes just a ritual, and we do not concentrate on what Jesus did for us, it loses its significance. If we find this happening to ourselves, let's commit that we will return to this passage of scripture so we can be reminded of the significance of this act of our worship.

Paul reinforces this message when he says that no one should take Holy Communion in an unworthy manner. In reality no one is worthy to take Holy Communion. We are all sinners saved by grace. This is why we are called to prepare ourselves for Holy Communion through healthy introspection, confessing our sin, and resolving to live a new and better life. If we do this, the meaning of Holy Communion is properly defined in our minds, we become worthy to receive it, and we focus our minds on living a better life.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

1 Corinthians 11:2, 17-22

In this letter to the Corinthians, Paul is chiding these new church-goers for basically not getting along. He has heard that there are divisions in the new church. He points out that divisions are natural to some extent. In fact, they are necessary to weed out the disengenuious members. But, for the most part, church members should come together "for better and for worse".

This passage made me think about St. Matthews and where it is in its walk with God. In fact, I have been thinking a lot about St. Matthews recently as I have looked at pictures of St. Patrick's Church in Mississippi. I have wondered what would we do if our church had been completely destroyed?

The first thing I think of about St. Matthews is where it is today. I have been coming here for a little over nine years. My kids were 6 and 9 and I was looking for a family-friendly church. I felt that St. Matthews was just that. People were very open and friendly. Then, as many of you know, St. Matthews went through a very tumultuous period. Many of our parishioners left and I considered leaving as well, but something told me to stay. Then, four years ago, Father Rob took over as Rector (then Vicar) and we started to rebuild. Now we have the blessed problem of running out of space.

Churches are people - run by people and filled by people. There is no perfect human and there will never be a perfect church. But, I am amazed by how blessed St. Matthews has been. Even just recently in hiring Melissa from St. Patricks was nothing short of the work of the Lord.

The members of St. Matthews should celebrate its accomplishments (as we did last Sunday), while being humbled by the enormous task as hand - to bring 21st century folks to the Lord's table. I can't think of a place I'd rather be or a people with whom I would rather serve than the folks of St. Matthews.

Monday, October 03, 2005

1 Corinthians 10:14 - 11:1

Today’s text is bracketed with two strong verbs: “flee” and “follow.” Within the brackets, we learn to flee from idolatry and to follow Jesus.

Corinth was a city of great diversity. Many religious practices flourished there, including some that involved animal sacrifices to “deities” other than the true God. Followers of Jesus faced a dilemma when they purchased meat in the marketplace or ate in the home of an unbeliever. Was the meat from a sacrifice in a pagan religious ceremony? Did eating such meat endanger them spiritually? Did it compromise their witness to Jesus before unbelievers? Paul helped them steer through the questions with a true compass both theological and pastoral in nature.

Theologically, he reinforced right worship. Flee from idolatry! Do not compromise your relationship with God and your witness to Jesus by knowingly participating in any act of worship to any false “god.” Pastorally, he balanced responsibility and freedom in Jesus. If you know the meat came from an idolatrous ritual, out of spiritual concern for yourself and your neighbor, do not eat. To do so would smack of idolatry. Yet, if you do not know the meat came from a pagan rite, eat without fear of spiritual harm to yourself and your neighbor. Everything belongs to God, creator and redeemer of the universe in all its spiritual and material aspects. Give thanks to God, and eat!

Today, we may not have the same concerns about meat in the market or in a person’s home (though those of us who are finicky eaters of longstanding may have other concerns!). Yet, idolatry still exists and tempts us. Idolatry is anything – spiritual or material – that draws us from God to place our deepest allegiance, hope, and love in it rather than in God. We should flee from idolatry!

In all then – whether eating, drinking, or just plain living – we should honor and reflect God’s glory. We should live to glorify God. He deserves it! And – not so incidentally – others will see God’s glory in us, that God may attract them to himself, to his saving power and love.

How do we glorify God? Most simply yet profoundly, we live to glorify God by imitating Jesus. Follow Jesus then! Be like him, live like he did – to glorify God in all we are and do.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Acts 12:1-17

When is the last time you got some really, really good news?My entire life I have worried about finances. It seems the no matter how much I earn there’s barely anything left to save.

This year a lot of continuing debt has been lifted off my shoulders. It began in little bits (Erin's wedding and engagement rings were paid off) and turned into huge amounts (paying off all of our credit card debt). It's not even stopping there, within 3 months my student loan will be paid off. Besides a car payment and mortgage we will be debt free.

As I mentioned earlier though, I have worried about money for as long as I can remember. Since I started working at 12 I never seemed to have enough. At times I lived beyond my means, but when I finally began trying to live at or below my means it didn't seem like to be possible. Over this past week all of that changed.

Truly, I don't believe it. It’s simply far to good to be true.

God has blessed us with financial security and the ability to save and give it away.

This thought continues to reel through my mind as I think of Peter and Mary.

An angel comes to Peter and frees him from captivity, but Peter thinks he must be dreaming. Finally Peter realizes what he’s seeing is real and understands what he must do next.

Then there's Mary. She's with friends praying for Peter's safety. While they are praying Rhoda comes in and tells them Peter's standing at the door. It's so incredible it can't possibly be true, right? No one believes it. They've been praying for so long that when God answers they almost miss it. Thank goodness Peter kept knocking and they understood that they must open the door.

I find myself in a similar situation. This huge burden has been removed. I still can't believe it. I'm finally waking up from the dream to a reality where God has provided what I thought was impossible. I know He is knocking at my door right this very moment and asking me to go the next step... I think it's time to answer the door and find out what that step is.


Saturday, October 01, 2005

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

He led them all into the desert, his presence abiding
And never in doubt. Before them he parted the waters,
With water baptized them. They never lacked food or a drink
As a rock for all ages sustained them. And that rock was Christ.
With strength for the tapping they ought to have prospered,
The promise was theirs for the claiming.
Yet all that they left
Was a valley of bones strewn among broken stones
And a warning lest any should follow the evil road home.
They rose up to play in the old pagan way,
And the death toll hit twenty-three thousand.
They grumbled, then stumbled, as snakes had their way with the rest.

We followed a call to the desert. We lack nearly nothing.
Our standing is high. But the serpents are still out among us.
Shall we also fall? Is the warning for us?
Is destruction our earned legacy?
There is a way out, safe from any temptation
Just one way out, out through the waters,
Through the holy food and drink,
through the Rock.