Friday, September 30, 2005

I Corinthians 9:15-27

In this passage Paul shows his love for people. He discusses how he enters their lives in order to bring them to Christ. When I thought about why Paul would enter people’s lives like that, I was struck by his compassion for people as he would come alongside them. The Message translation is very good and clear here. Paul says he “didn’t take on their way of life, “ but “entered their world.” As you and I go about our daily lives at school or work or in the community we can come alongside people and with joy bring the love of Christ to them. Paul says “I kept my bearings in Christ, but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view.” (verse 22, The Message translation). Thank God that we can keep our bearings in Christ and that we have examples like Paul to show us that nothing is more important than Jesus.

Paul then discusses his favorite theme; nothing matters except Jesus and that He is worth setting our sights on. This time Paul uses athletics to illustrate; the athletes train to compete, and they run hard for a prize which in the end, fades.

This time of year is very poignant in the garden. The cool air makes us joyful and the slanting autumn light is beautiful. However, it is a time of fading, of slipping away, of goodbyes. The sunflower heads are bowed now. The flower stalks and leaves are dry and rustle in the wind. Paul would say, we are like athletes, but what we run for and to does not fade. Unlike many things in life which cause sadness when they end, the reward of knowing Jesus will cost us no sadness at all. Our life with Him will not fade like so many things we have loved on this earth, things which we remember fondly but will not experience again. We can look forward with joy to our life with Jesus.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

1 Corinthians 9:1-15

In reading this passage, it seems pretty clear that there were some people who were upset with Paul. They were complaining about him and the way he did things. Apparently they wondered if his way of doing things was “of the Lord”.

It’s also seems clear that Paul is hurt by this. When you come right down to it, this is a pretty strong response. Hey didn’t just blow off the criticisms and sad, “No big deal. Some people are always unhappy.”

And my guess is that anyone who has taken a step out in public ministry can relate to this. Whether it’s the Youth Group, Music Ministry, Sunday School, teaching, leadership—whatever—more often than not there is going to be somebody who is unhappy with how you are doing things. And it will hurt.

I think two things. First, Paul was clear that what he was doing was indeed of the Lord. He knew he was being faithful. So he didn’t stop what he was doing or how he was doing it. Though it is valuable to receive input and feedback, we answer first to God.

Second, have we as a church learned anything since Paul’s day? People have been following Jesus for centuries now. Have we gotten any better at it? Can we be those who learn to appreciate people who step out in ministry, to see what God is doing through them rather than being threatened by it or thinking about what we would do differently? Can we send them a note of encouragement rather than finding someone else who will share our complaint?

Can we learn to appreciate one another, care for one another, love one another—like Christ loved us?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Today's passage deals with a strange issue, eating meat that has been offered in sacrifice to idols. This issue may be so strange in fact that we may feel it has nothing to do with us today. Even though today's reading deals with such a remote thing there are still three great principles which are eternally valid.

The first of these principles is what is safe for one person may not be safe for another. I firmly believe that God has His own way to every person's heart. The devil also has his own subtle way to every person's heart. A person may be strong enough to resist a temptation but another person may not. Therefore when we are in a group of people or being observed by people, before we undertake any action we must think through the influences that action has on us and on other people.

The second principle is nothing should be judged solely from the point of view of knowledge - everything should be judged from the point of view of love. There is always a certain danger in knowledge by itself. Knowledge can make us become arrogant, conceited, and feel superior to others. It can cause us to look down on others that do not have the same knowledge as ourselves. It can cause us to make fun of, or laugh at, those that are not as knowledgeable. It is especially dangerous when we are dealing with others that are not as far down their spiritual path as ourselves. Our behavior should not be driven by knowledge alone but by compassion and love for others. There are many times when out of compassion, love, and respect for another we should refrain from doing something or saying something that otherwise would be fine.

The final principle is no one has any right to indulge in a pleasurable activity which may harm someone else. We may have the strength of mind and will to keep that activity in its proper place. The pleasant activity may be safe for us but we do not have only ourselves to consider. We must also consider others and especially weaker others. Participating in an activity that is pleasurable to us but harmful to someone else must be avoided and could be a sin.

I am often amazed at the timelessness of the messages in the Bible.

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

Monday, September 26, 2005

1 Corinthians 7:25-31

As we know, Paul wrote letters to the Christians in Corinth. The Corinthian Christians also wrote to Paul. They corresponded to ask him questions about faith and practice, questions that were troubling them very much. One question in particular, as we see at the beginning of chapter 7, had to with the issue of marriage. Apparently, some in Corinth thought and taught, for several reasons, that it was more spiritual and moral for followers of Jesus not to marry. This perspective may have appealed in part because of distinctly immoral sexual behaviors that plagued the Christian community in Corinth, as indicated by Paul previously in this letter.

Paul responded as both a teacher and a pastor to the Corinthian Christians. As a teacher and a pastor – grounded in God’s truth and God’s love as manifested in Scripture, in creation, and in Jesus – he explained that marriage is not intrinsically wrong or even inferior. Nor is sexual intimacy between a man and a woman within marriage – within a covenant of love and commitment – wrong or inferior. (Compare Genesis 2:21-25.) At its least, marriage may limit and prevent wrongful behavior between a man a woman. At its highest, marriage may express and fulfill a loving union, spiritual and physical, between a man and a woman – a union that, even more, reflects the mystery of the union between Jesus and his Church. (Compare Ephesians 5:31-32.)

At the same time, Paul, aware that marriage is not possible or desirable for all, refuses to denigrate the single state. For many reasons, some people may be single; some may stay single all their life. For whatever the reason, this can be good – in the Lord – Paul clearly affirms. Indeed, being single can enable a person to serve Jesus more freely and single-mindedly.

Paul was clear in his letter to the Corinthians, and we undoubtedly know from our own experience, that being married or being single is not always easy and not always comfortable. Yet each situation can be good in the Lord – that is, good when submitted to faith, hope, and love in Jesus. For Jesus is himself the true “lover of our soul,” the source and end of all true love in life.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Acts 9:36-43

What amazing works will you do with your life?

Jesus said in John 14:12
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been
doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the
Father.

This passage speaks directly to that. Peter goes to a woman who has passed away and brings her back from the dead. Ok, while Peter didn't do all the work himself it's an incredible sign as to the power we have through prayer.

I've written about this before. We will do some amazing works through simple faith in God. Peter knelt beside Tabitha and prayed. With confidence he told her to rise, and she did.

There is more than an example of our faith bringing greater works than Jesus did while he was with us. What Peter also shows us is his confidence in God. When we truly follow God's will we have this surety in life. We have the confidence that we are living for God and that our works will glorify Him.

Doesn't it feel great to know we are living God's plan for us? When we act for Him we are sure that we're doing the right thing. Life just feels so right, so sure. I pray that each of us can find the comfort and confidence that God's love brings us.

Peace.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

1 Corinthians 7:10-24

For me, Paul's main point in this section is best summarized in verse 17: "However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you..." It doesn't matter, Paul says, if you are married or unmarried, circumcised or uncircumcised, free or a slave. Regardless of your condition, your situation, or your status, what matters is that you live for God -- wherever you are.

Have you ever engaged in "if only" thinking?
"If only things were different, then I'd be able to..."
"If only I was more..."
"If only I could..."
"If only I had more..."
"If only things had been different..."

Once I believed that I had wasted my high school years living in a convent. ("If only I hadn't ..."). I never felt I did anything for God while I was there, that I'd been there for the wrong reasons. But then God reminded me of Stella.

Stella arrived at the convent in September, around 1968. It was her first year there. It was my third. Stella was very shy, but she and I became fast friends. One evening in early November, she received a phone call from her dad. Her mother had died suddenly, and Stella would fly home the next day. Because we were friends, she looked to me to voice her anger and confusion, she looked to me to understand her grief and her tears, she looked to me to pack her things when she called a week later saying she wouldn't be returning. I never saw Stella again; but God reminded me that I'd been there (in His place) when Stella needed someone to talk to, someone to listen, someone with whom to cry. I realized then that those years in the convent weren't wasted years after all, because God used me to be there for Stella.

Dear God, whatever our condition, whatever our situation, whatever our status, may we receive Your grace and bloom for You wherever we are planted. Amen.

Martha Olson

Friday, September 23, 2005

I Cor. 7:1-9

This passage got me thinking about owners’ manuals. Actually, when I read this passage my first thought was, “why me?” since it pertains to sex and relations within marriage. But as I began to think about it I realized that this lesson about husbands and wives and their sex lives is one more example of God’s loving care for us. God cares about every area of our lives.

The Bible may be seen as history, God’s love story and also as an owner’s manual. This week the control box of my air conditioner was flashing “filter” at me. I stood there wondering what this could mean. I had just replaced the filter. Did it not like this brand? Did I have to go to the store at this hour and buy it a new filter? Did this have anything to do with the moisture under the filter holder? Was something going to catch on fire? Finally I consulted the owner’s manual and was able to decipher what the thing was trying to communicate to me (it had nothing to do with anything catching on fire and it was not rejecting the new filter).

God made us and He loves us so much more than anyone else ever will. Last week I wrote about submitting to Scripture. We can trust God and have the faith to obey Scripture, even when in our world we encounter many messages contrary to Scripure, especially in the are of sexual mores. We can know that He made us and knows what is best for us. Many younger people can find strength in this message as so much of popular entertainment carries false messages about sex. May you find comfort as you find God in Scripture.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Someone has commented that while generations past may have lived like there was no thing as sex, our generation lives like there is nothing but sex!

Our culture is one that sees sex a lot like fast food. It’s a basic human “appetite”; why shouldn’t we indulge it? It’s only natural, right?

The interesting thing about this passage is that it ties sex into what it means to be a person. People were created for relationships with God and one another where, to borrow a phrase from Immanuel Kant, we always treat persons (including ourselves) as ends in themselves, never merely as a means to our own ends.

And that is precisely the problem with casual sex; why it is very different than fast food. It does not honor people as people, but uses them only for own pleasure and gratification. And by the way—that is the problem with sexual fantasy as well. It reinforces ways of thinking that use people to the point where it becomes our most natural way to approach them.

So we are to glorify God by using our body as an expression of what we believe to be true, right and wrong. And even as that principle so clearly pertains to sex, I hope you can see how it can be applied in a much broader sense to our life in general.

Once again, I like how the message puts it: 19Or didn't you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don't you see that you can't live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. 20God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

1 Corinthians 5:9 - 6:8

Once again Paul writes some exceptional messages in his letter to the Corinthians. I note a special message in verses 10 and 11 of chapter 5, "not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, and idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat."

In these verses Paul makes it clear that we should not disassociate ourselves from unbelievers. If we did so how could we take the message of Jesus to these people? How could we fulfill one of Jesus' commandments to us? How could we share the message of salvation with them? Paul is telling us, however, that we should not associate with someone who calls himself or herself a Christian and at the same time still lives in sin. Such a person usually has a seemingly, at least seemingly on the surface, rationale for his or her actions. But always as we dig deeper we realize this rationale is unfounded. By rationalizing sin a person harms others for whom Christ died and dims the image of God in himself or herself. As a church, and as a community of Christians, we must be ready, willing, and able to correct, in a loving way, such people. This can be extremely hard to do. I know I find it hard to do - so hard in fact that I shy away for it. However, not only do they harm themselves but they harm all Christians - after all actions speak louder than words - thus we must do it.

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

Monday, September 19, 2005

1 Corinthians 4:8-21

As Paul will write later in this letter, God desires for us, gives to us, and nurtures in us three things: faith; hope; and love. These three fundamental dispositions or qualities are rich gifts bestowed upon us in the one truest and greatest gift – new life in Jesus. They are certainly good things. We should certainly rejoice in them. We should rejoice that, by God’s grace in Jesus, we now possess them.

At the same time, our handling of God’s gifts can warp us toward a spiritual arrogance. We may come to think we are spiritually mature in ways or to a point that we have not really attained. This warp may manifest itself in a feeling that we have arrived. We do not feel the need to grow spiritually. After all, we have advanced in faith so much! Or, it might manifest itself in an arrogance toward others. We may feel we are so better spiritually and morally than non-believers, and perhaps even than other believers.

It appears that many in the church in Corinth, having experienced God’s gifts in plenty through the ministry of Paul and others, skewed toward spiritual arrogance. Paul’s severe irony, in verse 10 of this chapter in particular, exposed their posture of spiritual superiority. He wrote severely not to shame them but to turn their hearts back to true life in Christ. Toward this end, in the next chapters Paul squarely addressed serious spiritual and moral problems in the Corinthian Christian community. His aim, God willing, was to set the Corinthian church right again on the sure foundation of true life in Christ, summarized in chapter 13 in these three gifts: faith, hope, and love, with love being the greatest.

God desires, gives, and nurtures good things in and through us – wonderful works, glorious goods. The only proper posture or disposition in response is humility – humility saturated with love and gratitude, love and gratitude to God. Decades ago when I began to follow Jesus more intentionally and seriously, I sometimes imagined how spiritually advanced and mature I would be decades later. Now I am those decades later. Increasingly close to God temporally, I realize only more how far I yet have to go to close with God spiritually.

Gregory Strong

Friday, September 16, 2005

1 Cor. 4:1-7

In the midst of the controversy and contentiousness surrounding Paul's (and his associates, including by name here, Apollos) ministry, he makes several key points here which are worth applying to the Church generally today and (with care and respect) to ourselves.

1. Those with a ministry are carrying out a sacred trust; it is a gift of God, and ultimately only God is worthy and capable of assessing the value of the gift in each person. God's ultimate judgment will expose the true hearts and motives of all persons.

2. Without denying the need for each of us to search and know our own hearts, Paul states that ultimately any human assessment of the heart and human-based truth does not carry weight; such assessment can fail.

3. Paul specifically appeals to Scripture in insisting that truth is "nothing beyond what is written" (in his time and context, that would comprise the Old Testament canon only). No human teacher is above another.

Finally,
"If anything has been given to you, why boast of it as if it were something you had achieved yourself?" (v. 7, J.B. Phillips trans.)

Here is a warning to all of us: even if the boasting is purely within ourselves (and it so often is something I catch in myself), consciously or unconsciously, we are making a value judgment: that we are intrinsically better than others. And that is dangerous thinking, for we are setting ourselves up to be exposed.

I'll be better advised to boast of the giver of gifts, and thank the Giver truly from my heart.
--mlb

I Cor.3: 16-23

In this passage Paul is addressing a problem in the Corinthian church. Church members had aligned themselves with different church leaders, forming factions. Paul attempts to teach the Corinthians that boastfully holding a favored leader up as wise is using the world’s standards. Paul once again brings the discussion back to Christ and his preeminence. Again I am reminded that God’s word is the true yardstick against which I should measure anything; any goal, idea or emotion.

In this case the Corinthians were falling in line behind favored leaders. Any church may have disagreements over what is important. It reminds me the importance of humbling ourself (and myself) before God’s word so that He may show us what is important. Each morning as I read God’s word it is a time to calm my heart and humbly ask God to show me how to go His way, and bring my thoughts under submission to Him. Paul expresses this again very well in II Cor. 10:5: It is pretension which sets itself against the knowledge of God. As I thought over the concept of relying on Scripture the word SUBMISSION to God’s word came to me. Submission seems to be the opposite of pretension. To me pretension says, I don’t need help from God.

Rather than being wise in the world’s eyes I pray that I can submit to Scripture and be wise in the ways of God.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

1 Corinthians 2:14-3:15

My guess is that anyone who is reading this is interested in being spiritually mature; in feeding on the solid food of the adult rather than the milk of infants. We are those who want to go deep in Christ!

Clearly, being “spiritual” involves both knowledge and practice. No matter how much Scripture we may have stored up in our head, or how much time we have spent studying it, if we still behave like people in the world pursuing human inclinations (as The Message puts it: “what makes you feel good” or “what makes you look important”), well, we’ve apparently missed the proverbial boat.

And yet knowledge is extremely important. It seems to me the fundamental failing of the Corinthians—which in itself lead to their misbehavior—was they missed the scope of what God was doing. They were so caught up in what Paul or Apollos was doing that they missed the bigger picture of what Jesus wanted to do. Is it possible that the church in all its divisions has the same problem today?

One thing is for sure; if our life continues to be marked by “infantile” behavior (again, the Message) like the jealousy and quarrelling that keep us from loving and appreciating one another as Christ loved us, we can be sure that somewhere, in some way, we’ve gotten off track. No matter how much we might like to think we understand and participate in what God is doing in the world through Jesus, if we are not loving “our neighbor as our self”, that is not in fact the case.

Nothing new in that, is there? Nothing we don't already know. But the tough part is… doing it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

1 Corinthians 2:1-13

Today's reading has a couple of messages I want to write about. These messages have a special meaning for me.

The first message is found in verse 7, "... God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began." What is this secret wisdom? Of course Paul is writing about God's power over sin and death. Originally, as seen in the Old Testament, humanity did not know the form salvation would take. The prophets knew salvation was real, but they did not know how it would be revealed. Of course God knew. He knew before time began, and it became crystal clear when Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus' resurrection proved that He had power over sin and death and could offer us this power as well. God's plan, however, is still hidden to much of humanity; humanity that either refuses to accept it, chooses to ignore it, or simply has not heard about it. The fact that God's plan is still hidden from many is a shame. We, as believers, are called to share the Word with others. If God's plan is hidden from someone you know, what are you doing about it?

The second message is found in verse 9. "... No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him." When I first read this I thought it was only talking about heaven. While it is talking about the life we shall experience in the presence of God in heaven, it is also talking about life on earth. Accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, following his commandments, and knowing the wonderful and eternal future that awaits us allows us to press on in this life, endure hardships, and avoid temptation. It allows us to face the work God has given us to do with an inner peace that others do not feel. It gives us the courage and strength to accomplish His will and not our own.

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

1 Corinthians 1:20-31

Today’s passage is a great example of the timeliness and timelessness of the Bible. Just as it was nearly 2000 years ago, today’s society is full of those who would boast in their absence of a relationship with God. Many times, that boast is accompanied by a prideful display of a worldly intelligence that would mock anyone foolish enough to believe in God. Yet it is this foolishness that saves us.

As with many biblical passages, in today’s passage we are confronted with the stark contrast of the world’s ways and God’s ways.

The world says, “Only the strong survive”;
God says, “Whoever loses his life for me will save it”.

The world says, “An eye for eye”;
God says, “Turn the other cheek”.

The world says, “He who dies with the most toys wins”;
God says, “If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic”.

The world uses wisdom and philosophy to deny God;
God uses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.

How does this take place? How does God use the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. A great deal of it happens through the body of believers, that is, through us. We need not be wise by human standards nor be influential nor be of noble birth. The bible is full of people who were flawed but used by God nonetheless. Their biggest asset was not their ability but rather their availability to be used by God.

It can be rather unnerving to step out in faith and ask God to use you. Many times, it's the fear that He'll actually take us up on the offer that is unsettling. But, knowing that He can use even foolish things, don’t you think He can use you? Question is… will you let Him?

Monday, September 12, 2005

1 Corinthians 1:1-19

Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, in Greece, several times. We have two of those letters as 1 and 2 Corinthians. Paul started this letter – 1 Corinthians in our New Testament; written around 55 A.D. – with words of joy and confidence in the Corinthian church. His sincerity was authentic, but the warm words were only the beginning of the letter. While there was much spiritual good in the Corinthian church, it was also troubled in significant ways. As Paul began to address those problems, he emphasized the foundation of his teaching: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

We should re-read that last phrase again and again: “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” It is stunning. It would have been stunning to any one in Paul’s time. At first reading, we may miss the stunning paradox, for we are accustomed to the cross as ornament – as gilt on our prayer books, gold in our churches, colored stone in our jewelry, and many other adornments. For first century Mediterranean residents, the cross meant nothing like an adornment. It meant terror, torture, death. Paul and his contemporaries would have fully understood the sense of our English phrase “excruciating pain.” The Latin for “cross” is nailed into the English.

Because they understood “cross” in the sense the Romans used it, his contemporaries would have started at the innovation in Paul’s phrase: “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” True, the cross meant power for the state: power to terrorize, to torture, to kill – to excruciate. But for Jesus and thousands and thousands of other excruciated figures over the years, the cross meant utter powerlessness. The cross was hopelessly empty of power for them. For them, there was no power to empty from it.

But that perspective would be conventional, human wisdom. Not God’s wisdom. True, in terms of human wisdom and power, a savior on a cross is utter foolishness and weakness. Yet God’s foolishness and weakness mean more than any human wisdom and power. In God’s foolishness and weakness, the cross of Christ overflows – overflows with goodness and life, not with evil and death. As followers of Christ crucified, let us live in God’s foolishness and weakness – in the cross of Christ, the fountain of true wisdom and power.

Gregory Strong

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Philippians 3:17-4:7

It is clear in his writing that Paul dearly loves the Philippians. He guides and encourages them. He urges those in conflict to "be of the same mind in the Lord." He writes, "even with tears," of those who refuse to believe.

Paul continues with his messages of joy, prayer, and inner peace: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice...Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Paul's messages of joy and rejoicing, of prayer and inner peace apply even today. However, in these trying times of war and terrorism and natural disasters and instant news coverage of horrific images and body counts, it's not so easy to "rejoice in the Lord always." It's not so easy to "let God's peace guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." It's not so easy, that is, unless you have faith in God. It's not so easy, unless you trust in God. It's not so easy, unless you receive God's grace (which is yours for the asking).

Last week we saw many disturbing images of the power and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, especially its toll in human suffering and loss. I wonder how many of the victims of Katrina -- those left homeless, jobless, suffering the loss of a pet, or a family member, or a friend -- held fast to their faith and their trust in God. I pray that they may continue to rejoice in the Lord, to let His peace displace worry at the center of their lives, to trust Him with their present needs, to see the boundless possibilities of the future God has in store for them, and to pray to Him with thanksgiving as well as with supplication. For once God's peace is within you, no force whatsoever (hurricane, earthquake, terrorism, etc.) can tear it from you.

May God's peace guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus, and may you rejoice in the Lord always. Amen.

Martha Olson

Friday, September 09, 2005

Phil. 3:1-16

As the daily devotional series has focused on Paul I have come to admire the single-mindedness of his devotion to Christ. In this familiar passage he outlines why he of all Jews would be proud of his accomplishments; his circumcision, his tribe, his religious training.

This section (verses 4-6) impacted me in a new way this week. For one thing I hadn’t realized that Paul is saying for his day these were big accomplishments. What if we got elected to office or became famous by singing on American Idol (I have never seen the show but it seems major, if it’s still on)? . What if we won an Olympic event? Paul would say, it wouldn’t matter compared to the import of knowing Christ.

What if other things that bring me joy were compared to my joy at knowing Christ? How about being with a friend, or seeing the beautiful sights in the garden? I feel happy when I see the gold sun go down behind the trees outside the living room window, or see the cat asleep with her paws in the air, or read literature so good it makes me cry; pages and phrases of which I remember years later. How about walking in the woods or seeing the little brown birds in the grocery store parking lot? So many things in this life bring joy. Paul would say, it’s all a loss compared to “the greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (v. 8). If I think of the greatest thing in this life, Jesus is greater.

Paul tries so hard in this passage to explain this to us, we who have poor spiritual eyesight. This week I’ll try to look with new eyes.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Philippians 2:12-30

What a rich passage this is! Here are some of my thoughts about it:

Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God (!!!) who works in you… [emphasis mine]. How many of us take our salvation entirely too casually? To think of salvation as it is described here—God working in us—WOW!

Reflect on that a moment. The God of infinite power and might and wisdom at work in us. What a privilege. What a responsibility. What an opportunity. Not the kind of thing to be approached lightly.

I like how the message translates vs 12b: Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That’s the kind of intentional, intensive response God at work in us calls us to make.


Do everything without complaining or arguing…children of God…[who] shine like the stars in the universe. We live in such negative times. But then, maybe it has always been easier to be negative than to be positive; to complain about things rather than do our part in making them right. What would it take for us to be exceedingly positive today?

I love the image of shining like the stars in the heavens. It’s a question worth asking one self. Just how brightly do I shine, really? What would it take for my light to be brighter—to go super nova?

Finally, there is the example of Timothy and Epaprhoditus. They are not distinguished by anything so much as their faithful SERVICE. For the Christian, there is no higher calling. And the call here quite clearly is not just to serve occasionally as it fits our schedules, but as a way of life.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Philippians 2:1-11

In today’s reading Paul outlines remarkable character traits of Jesus and urges you and me to demonstrate these same traits in our lives. Paul says Jesus humbled Himself, took the demeanor of a servant, and was obedient to God’s will. Jesus continued to demonstrate these traits throughout His ministry – even to the point of dying on a cross for you and me.

Well if Jesus can do this, why is it so hard for us to do it too? I am not talking about dying for my fellow man; I am simply talking about having the attitude to put others before us. Perhaps one reason is our attitude in this country about personal rights.

Often we excuse selfishness, pride, or evil by claiming personal rights. Students might say, “I can cheat on this test, after all I deserve to pass this class,” or adults might say “I can spend all this money on myself, I worked hard for it.” But as true believers in Christ we should have a different attitude, an attitude that allows us to lay aside our so-called rights in order to serve others. If we say we follow Christ, we must also say we want to live as He lived and develop His attitude of humility as we serve – even when we are not likely to get recognized for our efforts.

This attitude of humility is extremely important in this mix. We can choose our attitude and we can choose our outlook on life. We can serve others with the attitude of loving God and others or we can serve out of guilt or fear. We can approach life expecting to be served, or looking for opportunities to serve others. It is our choice and the Bible gives us not only this example but many others regarding the attitude Jesus demonstrated for us. One way to move closer to Christ is to move our attitude closer to His.

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

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Philippians 1:12-30

Paul was certainly no "fair-weather" Christian. He didn’t withhold his preaching until he found an audience that would be receptive to it. He didn’t couch the gospel in terms that would allow a little leeway in its true meaning so as not to offend those who might disagree or believe differently. And he didn’t allow the threat of stoning, flogging or imprisonment intimidate him into silence. No, in all ways, Paul was fully dedicated to proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

It is rather ironic that Paul is writing to the Philippians from prison in light of his earlier imprisonment by the Philippians themselves. You may recall it was in Philippi that Paul and Silas were flogged and imprisoned when, around midnight as they were praying and singing hymns to God, an earthquake occurred which loosened their chains. Paul used this opportunity to baptize the jailer and his family.

Now we see Paul is in prison again. He could have complained about the injustice he is suffering, that of being jailed only for proclaiming Christ. He could have reminded the Philippians of his imprisonment at their hands for no better reason. But in his graciousness and devotion to spreading the Gospel, he is using the worst of circumstances to advance the Gospel.

Not only does he rejoice in the fact that others have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly, but he encourages the Philippians to do the same. Even in his encouragement, though, he doesn’t pull any punches. He tells the Philippians in verses 29 and 30 that not only has it been granted to them on behalf of Christ to believe on Him but they will also suffer for Him since they will go through the same struggle he (Paul) is.

May we hear these words as if they were spoken directly to us so that we, too, may never be called "fair-weather" Christians. And may the words Paul wrote so many years ago be your prayer and mine this day and always: "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted…"

In His service,
Mark Vereb

Monday, September 05, 2005

Philippians 1:1-11

Paul was in prison for his faith. While in prison he wrote to the community of Christians in Philippi (in ancient Macedonia, now modern Greece). What he wrote was not full of himself, full of his trials and tribulations. What he wrote was full of love and joy – love for Jesus, joy in him; love for the Philippians, joy in them.

Out of his love and joy, he wrote to encourage the Philippian Christians, to help them grow in heart, mind, and spirit. He prayed that their love would overflow more and more with knowledge and deep insight. He prayed for them to mature in Jesus, in purity and excellence of life. Thus they would produce a harvest of spiritual good for the benefit of others, all to the glory and praise of God.

How easy it is for us to view Jesus – to view church and church-going – as just another set of components in an already too-full life. Our life is an accumulation of many things, many affiliations, many desires. How easy it is to see Jesus as just one more of them. How easy it is to view church and church-going as just two more things among many other affiliations and activities.

But Jesus did not live and die and rise to be just one more person, thing, or idea in our life. It is difficult to believe Paul would have endured hardships, imprisonments, sufferings, and death for Jesus – if Jesus were just one more component in an otherwise full life. It is difficult to believe Paul would have labored among and written to the Philippians to exhort them to give their lives to Jesus – to abounding love, full knowledge, deep insight, and a harvest of righteousness – were Jesus just another good among many other possible goods.

Jesus is the beginning and end of life – savior and lord of life. He is origin and completion of all good in life. May we pray for ourselves and for others as Paul prayed for the Philippians – for Jesus to overflow in knowledge and depth and righteousness and love in our lives, all to the glory and praise of God.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Acts 4:18-31

Today I'm really looking forward to going to church, baking cookies, wrapping presents and enjoying G3. Two weeks from now youth group is planning to go to Hershey Park, which I'm really excited about. A month from now I'm planning to go down to Florida for a week long vacation with friends. Tuesday I plan to work from home and begin closing out a project I'm on. These are just a few of things I've got planned for the next month or so.

All of these plans could change tomorrow, heck they could change in a second. My life has already been planned out years, centuries and eons ago. God made me to fulfill a certain role in this world. He's planned every minute of every day.

A few years ago I came to realize this truth in my life. It's one of the scariest and most wonderful things. I still have to make plans each day and live this life, through the good days and the bad ones. At the same time, I feel it pretty relaxing to know there's someone more important than me planning my life for me.

Now, I am kind of a control freak. I like to be sure I'm in control of what's going on around me. That's a big part of why I barely drink (I've never been drunk) and I'd never do drugs. Sometimes though, being in control of everything can get old and overwhelming. Times like this bring me back to prayer. To make time for me to listen to God and what He wants me to do with my day. Times like this also help me remember to keep listening to God, even when I really do feel in control.

I do have free will, and I may not follow His plan all the time. Sometimes all I can do is pray that my plan is shared with the plan God has for me today, tomorrow, next month and next year.

Peace,
+Tom

Saturday, September 03, 2005

James 5:7-12, 19-20

Rain, at the seasons of God’s appointing, brings life and sustenance to the earth, and farmers learn to wait on the seasonal rains—as their livelihood requires. This past week, we have seen all too horribly clearly how rain (and wind and storm surges) can also bring devastation and death. In these times, and especially for those who have been displaced by the flood waters, it is hard if not impossible to comprehend how to be patient and persevering.

Nearly 2000 years ago James said that the Judge was at the door; and still we are waiting. It would be naive not to consider, and plan for, the possibility that some catastrophe may befall us in the time ahead—soon or later. James, in the only New Testament verse that names Job, cites the familiar example of perseverance in the face of relentless suffering.
Again and again we are told, by prophets and by our Lord, and even warned in the most serious tones, BE READY. Indeed, we should make ready not merely our homes, but our hearts as well. We must be ready to persevere, even if the relief we seek is not soon in coming.

Ultimately, what indeed are the levees in our lives to hold back the waters of destruction? Nothing that we own cannot be “overtopped”—ultimately all that we have is Christ alone. But we are commanded to make the love of Christ manifest in our community through love for one another, to redirect the wandering among us, to shore up the weak, and thereby “cover a multitude of sins.”
--mlb

Friday, September 02, 2005

James 4:13-5:6

I don’t know about the rest of you, but Rob’s sermon last Sunday really got me to thinking about the direction of my life. Then, to top it all off, I came to today’s New Testament reading, James 4:13 – 5:6. Talk about icing on a cake!

This reading is a continuation of letter to the Twelve Tribes. In this excerpt, he is admonishing the reader from being too wrapped up in their own capabilities, in their own arrogance and in their own riches. Instead, he reminds them that we really have no control over our destinies. It will happen if the Lord wishes it to. He goes on to say that riches will rot, clothes will become moth-eaten and treasure will become rusted. The only way to go is to submit yourself to God.

Verse 14 really spoke to me: “For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” This reminds me of a favorite song of mine which is on the first Casting Crowns (not Counting Crows) CD, which I bought at CreationFest 2004. They sang there and I really was taken by their lyrics and their music. The song “I Am Yours” (which I don’t believe they sang at CreationFest but is on the CD) includes the following words:

Who Am I, that the eyes that see my sin
Would look on me with love and watch me rise again?
Who Am I, that the voice that calmed the sea
Would call out through the rain
And calm the storm in me?
Not because of who I am
But because of what You've done
Not because of what I've done
But because of who You are
I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
A vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I'm calling
Lord, You catch me when I'm falling
And You've told me who I am
I am Yours, I am Yours

In thoughtful prayer,
Vicki Nelson

Thursday, September 01, 2005

James 3:13-4:12

13Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

As I write this, it is hard to think about much else other than the devestation along the Gulf Coast. The emotional impact reminds me of... September 11.

Though in many ways these tragic events are very different, both remind me how vulnerable we all really are. Living in America it is easy to forget that. But like September 11, this is something that drives our vulnerability home.

That vulnerability--the realization that everything we are and everything we have can be completely swept away--is painful. But it is also at the very heart of the humility spoken of in this passage. The person who doesn't realize that,living their life in pursuit of the good things of this world, is with complete certainty in for a rude awakening.

So what are the good deeds that come from this humility? I'd suggest they are the deeds of love and compassion that manifest themselves in very real sacrifice. When we sacrifice what we could have in this world to reach out to others, we are living the good life that demonstrates we are indeed citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and Friends of God.

It demonstrates that we love others more than we love our things; that we are more willing to serve than simply seek our pleasure; that we value our deep connections with each other more than we value selfishness.

Dear Brothers and Sisters--how will we sacrifice; genuinely sacrifice--to help in this time of desparate need?