Wednesday, November 30, 2005

2 Peter 3:1-10

I really enjoy the reading for today. I hope you, like I, find it very inspirational.

Today's reading assures us that the Lord is still in control despite the confusion that exists in the world today. He has promised in the past that He will return and He will keep that promise. Based on this fact, today's reading helps me, and I hope it helps you, to keep focused on trying to live a life that honors God. Many people will continue to attempt to detour us from the path we are on. We must resist them, but never stop loving them.

False teachers will always be a pressing problem for Christians. But the promised return of our Savior, Jesus Christ, looms bright on the horizon. This promise should, and must, supersede any human presence that now assaults us. We must continue to look to Him and continue to live for Him. Just like hitting a baseball, keeping our eye on the ball, or goal, is extremely important in our success. Keeping our eye on the goal helps to block out the distractions caused by false teachers.

My final thought on today's reading has to do with physics. In my account, or the account of any mortal, there is a vast difference between one day and a thousand years. Yet, in the account of God there is no difference. All things, past, present, and future, are ever before Him. Thus, the time of His return can be today, tomorrow, or a thousand years from now. This seems like a tremendous time difference to us, but to God it is not. If He "delays" His return for a thousand years it is no more to Him as us putting off anything for a day or an hour. As it has been said before, time is relative.

In the midst of uncertainty and struggle, believers in Jesus Christ must never lose sight of the certainty and hope of the future that bring meaning to the present.

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

2 Peter 1:12–21

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

We continue this week with Peter, only this is his second letter. Here Peter is very much the teacher providing encouragement and instruction to his students. Peter speaks with the authority of someone that personally witnessed Jesus and his glorification. He proclaims Jesus as the “—beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”. He knows that Jesus is the Son of God because he personally heard the voice of God make the proclamation. This “fact” is not from human interpretation but from the voice of God as heard by Peter.

Peter is looking ahead in time to when those like him that personally witnessed Christ would be gone. He starts the passage by acknowledging that his readers already know the truth and that he is only reminding them and arousing them. Peter predicts his own demise and indicates that he will “see to it” that they can be constantly reminded of the truth.

Here Peter is establishing the Church as a means of keeping the community of believers together and constantly reminded of the truth. He is obviously concerned about how individual interpretation of what Christ did could destroy the truth. He suggests that the community requires a continuing link with those who have the authority to speak the truth “as men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke (en) from God”.

There was a time in my religious experience (or lack of it) where I questioned the need for priests. My early churching was in the Presbyterian Church and I saw the need for someone to lead the “meeting” and preach and teach. I didn’t recognize the need for much else. Then my darling wife (girlfriend at the time) introduced me to Anglicanism where I saw a real priest for the first time. Now I know what Peter was talking about. This passage indicates the difference between Paul and Peter and their messages. The approach may be different but both sacrificed their life to ensure the truth was told and that it survived forever. May God bless them both?

AMEN
John Dickie

Monday, November 28, 2005

2 Peter 1:1-11

In this second letter to followers of Jesus in Asia Minor, Peter wrote to bolster both the foundation and practice of faith. Some in the early Christian communities had begun to teach two perspectives that deviated from true belief and practice. That is, some held that Jesus had given only partial knowledge of God and spiritual realities. Extra, even esoteric or secret, knowledge was necessary for truly spiritual life, and such knowledge came from sources other than the life and teaching of Jesus. Additionally, some contended that, once the gift of salvation in Jesus had been experienced, conduct did not matter. The “spiritual” person could behave in any way he or she chose because salvation had been already given; it could not be earned by right behavior in life.

Peter countered both perspectives squarely. From his own relationship with Jesus – while Jesus had walked the earth, and after Jesus had risen – Peter bore witness that Jesus “has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” There is no need for extra, esoteric sources of ideas in order to know God and spiritual realities clearly and confidently. Jesus communicates God to us intimately, uniquely, truly, and sufficiently, that we may really participate in the life of God and manifest the character of God in our life.

Therefore – and we should fully mark the strength of Peter’s transition in verse 5, translated in the New International Version as “For this very reason” – we should live a robust life in Jesus. This is a life not limited to mere beliefs, or hedged assent to vague ideas about God and Jesus – as if this could be real faith in Jesus! This is a life of true faith. In true faith, our beliefs about God and his purposes specifically and sufficiently root in Jesus himself. In true faith, our beliefs then body forth in qualities and actions characterized by goodness, self control, perseverance, godliness, kindness, and love.

In short, God has given us new life: new knowledge; new perspectives; new direction; and new purpose. Therefore, live this new life to the fullest extent possible. Where can we find out the “what” and “how” of this life? Look to Jesus, to his life and teaching, for he is truly divine and human, and by the power of the Holy Spirit we need no other to live into what God has made us.

Gregory Strong

Saturday, November 26, 2005

1 Peter 4:7-19

Don't be surprised.

It happened then. It happens now. People are tested, people suffer. Even the best among us (and perhaps especially the best), and some because they bear the name. Therefore...

Be serious (not a mischief maker!)
Discipline yourselves
Be hospitable
Serve one another with your individual gifts and with the strength of God
Speak as if it were God speaking

ABOVE ALL, LOVE ONE ANOTHER. It covers a multitude of sins!

I thank God for this community that is so visibly living into this love, bringing it across many hard-driven miles to those who desperately need love and service and hospitality. May we never flinch from the challenges yet before us.
--mlb

Friday, November 25, 2005

1 Peter 3:13-4:6

Thankful

This is a wintry cold Thanksgiving Day. As far as nature goes, we got dessert first in that we got a nice dusting of snow last night. We have so much to be thankful for (and my friends reading this top my list) that we don’t even realize it. Speaking of friends, I read that all the youth from our church who are now in Mississippi helping out went down in a large van together, driving 17 hours with our youth ministers. I’m sure that made a lot of Thanksgiving memories!
One of the themes of the book of I Peter is hope in dealing with suffering for being a Christian. Peter advises the beleaguered Christians to speak gently and with respect, even in the conflict of being challenged. I love the reminder to be gentle (which I often need to remember in my own home).

I wish now that we are entering the Christmas season that we could remember it is a religious, not a commercial season. I wish I could pretend that it is still Thanksgiving and just be thankful. I wish I could just be happy to be alive, to feel the cold wind, and not be able to read the glossy department store ads (never mind all those electronics ads).
In this reading Peter says that suffering in the body makes one less prone to live ones’ life for “evil human desires” (4:2). We don’t suffer much but surely I can sacrifice somehow and make me look at others’ needs rather than getting more shiny things for myself. And this is the season of shiny. Hopefully for me the shine can come from doing things for others, out of my gratefulness to God.

Happy Thanksgiving and may this gentle day’s spirit be with us this Advent season.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

1 Peter 2:11-25

Though there is an alternate set of readings that can be used for Thanksgiving day, I thought I’d stick with 1 Peter as we work through this book together.

The passage begins by calling us to “conduct ourselves honorably amongst the Gentiles, so that…they may glorify God.” The principle here seems to be that it is important we behave in such a way as to draw people to God.

At Thanksgiving, we may well spend time with people who do not believe as deeply as we do, and perhaps who do not believe at all. For them, Thanksgiving may simply be about feasting on turkey and pumpkin pie and watching foot ball games.

Might there be an occasion to put this first principle into practice? Might this day provide us a chance to in some way favorably witness to the God we love? I’m guessing it will. The larger question is whether or not we’ll make the most of the opportunity given us.

Then there is a section about living with proper courtesy, honor, and respect for authority. I’m also guessing Thanksgiving—the travel it often entails, the activities it involves, the time with family and friends—will also give us plenty of chances to be gracious, well-mannered, and appropriately submissive (not insisting on our own way might be one way of thinking about that) in our dealings with one another.

The passage closes with a reflection on all God has done for us in Christ Jesus. I hope that all of us will take time today to reflect on that, and to appropriately and intentionally express how grateful we are for God’s love and all the blessings that flow from it.

Finally, I love the last image, of Christ as the “shepherd and guardian of our souls”. It is the image of a God who wants the best for us, who we can trust to care for us even when we don’t know how to care for ourselves. It is a God we would do well to spend time with and learn from and love.

May this holiday weekend give us extended time to do just that.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

1 Peter 2:1-10

I really like today's reading. Peter portrays the church as a living, spiritual house, with Christ as the foundation and cornerstone and each believer as a stone. This portrayal is very similar to Paul's portrayal of the church as a body with Christ as the head and each believer as a body part.

Both portrayals emphasize community. One stone is not a temple or even a wall just as one body part is useless without the others. In today's society, a very individualistic society, it is easy to forget our interdependence with other Christians.

In addition to Christian community, this passage points out the importance of Jesus Christ in our lives. When one builds a structure, what is the stone that really is important? Peter pronounces in his writing that Christ himself is that stone. However, Jesus is also called "the stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." Some stumble over Christ because they reject him or refuse to believe that he is who he says he is. People who refuse to believe in Christ are making the greatest mistake of their lives. They stumble over the one being who could save them and give meaning to their lives. Psalm 118:22 says, "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone."

In closing, let's ponder a couple of questions that I feel summarize today's reading. What can you do, or what can I do, to affirm or build up someone at Saint Matthew's? Whom do you know who has had difficulty believing the gospel? What can you do, or what can I do, to help them believe?

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

1 Peter 1:13–25

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

Well, we have something different this week. After 4 weeks of Revelation, this week we have 1 Peter. Last week we were blest with the promise “Behold I make all things new.” This week Peter challenges his readers on how we should be “new.” He starts by telling us to focus on the grace that has come to us through the revelation of Jesus Christ. Do you have as much trouble focusing on things as I do? There is so much to distract. It is so easy to focus on our Lord on a Sunday morning while taking communion and being around other faithful. It is not so easy Monday morning or in the next staff meeting at work. How to stay focused on our spiritual being? I know that I exist on earth as 2 realities. The physical reality is temporary and yet it gets all my attention. My spiritual reality is the most valuable reality I have (Jesus ensured eternal life) and yet I struggle to stay in touch.

Peter demands that we change from our pre Jesus “ignorance” to our saved and enlightened condition – that we become holy like our lord. It is wonderful to be reminded that our souls have been purified by the sacrifice of Jesus. This purity allows us to love one another earnestly from the heart. We are expected to act on our “holiness” and be born anew.

We are told to focus on the grace that comes with revelation of Jesus. The word grace is used in so many contexts that I find it difficult to understand its meaning. I prefer to understand grace as a gift from God that I did not earn. My whole spiritual self is a gift that I did not earn. I spend so much of my time earning “things” that I often lose sight of my most valuable asset and the fact it is free.

Thank the Lord and Fr. Rob for allowing me to write this weekly devotional. It gives me the chance to think about my state of grace other than on Sunday morning and I can do it anywhere and any time. This is good for me and hopefully it is good for you to.

AMEN
John Dickie

Monday, November 21, 2005

1 Peter 1:1-12

We commonly use the word “hope” in at least two senses. Some times we speak of “hoping against hope.” In this sense we use “hope” to indicate a kind of doggedness of will, but it is a sheer doggedness without real expectation of fulfillment. Hope thus experienced is more desperate than it is, well, hopeful. At other times we speak of “hope” more in terms of confident expectation, of trust that something will occur or be fulfilled. Hope thus experienced is not desperate but, well, truly hopeful.

Peter, a disciple of and witness to Jesus, wrote this letter to followers of Jesus scattered around Asia Minor in the early 60s A.D. He wrote to encourage and foster hope and faithfulness in those dispersed Christian communities. The hope of which he spoke was hope of the latter kind – expectant and confident of fulfillment of God’s purposes in the world and in the lives of his beloved people.

Peter wrote of hope not because he was naïve. He had seen the worst, from his own failure before Jesus to Jesus’ horrible death. Yet he knew also the great mercy of God leading to new birth, to new life in the risen Jesus. In a sense, after all he had been through with Jesus, Peter knew this mercy better than he knew his own failure or any other failures in life. God – loving, good, and powerful – thus gave him hope in Jesus.

Nor were Peter’s readers naïve. They knew trouble, discomfort, and adverse circumstances. Though they lived in it, they were “strangers in the world.” This was a period of increasing persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. They suffered or expected to suffer. Yet they also experienced God’s mercy and new life in Jesus. God thus gave them hope in Jesus.

We may look at the world around us, and at our own life, and we may ask what hope there is. Is there only hope against hope? Or is there true hope – expectant, trusting, confident? There is true hope, declared Peter, not by ignoring trouble and adversity, but amid trouble and adversity, in that God in mercy gives us new life in Jesus. Through worship, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, and faithful living, we experience Jesus, and God fashions hope in us, more each day. And so in turn we become agents of hope in a world in desperate need of it.

Gregory Strong

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Revelation 22:14-21

Here they are, the final verses of the Book of Revelation -- the epilogue.

John's final words in the Book of Revelation include blessings, an invitation, a harsh warning against altering the Word of God, and testimony that Jesus has sent this message. John then closes with a prayer and a benediction.

His blessing is for those who have been saved, that, through Jesus, they may enter eternal life. He invites all who hear, all who thirst for the water of life, to take it as a gift.

You probably know someone who's turned down God's invitation for salvation through Jesus. I know several. Some are even good friends of mine. One such friend is currently in the hospital. He is 76 years old, and his health is rapidly deteriorating. He fought in the Korean war and sustained physically deforming injuries. He is genetically susceptible to aneurysms and to strokes. He has lost most of the use of his legs. His wife of many years died of cancer a few years ago, though he has remarried. Two of his three daughters are estranged from him. He has suffered much, and he is cynical. His only hope? That he will not be placed in a nursing home. That makes me sad.

There are many others who, for varying reasons, decline to accept salvation, who decline to accept Jesus. We must find a way, in this culture of abundance and materialism and temptation, to share with them the encouragement and hope that John gives us in the book of Revelation. We must tell them, we must show them, we must spread the message that it is God who is in control. He is in control of timeless, limitless history that is and is to come. All we have to do is trust in Him and believe that, in the end, good will triumph. In this world filled with turmoil and confusion, we must encourage others to place their hope and trust in God and to ask for His grace. And we must encourage them to accept His offer of salvation. Then, we can all "...enter the city by the gates" into life everlasting with God.

It is fitting to close with John's own prayer and benediction: "...Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen." (20:20-21)

Martha Olson

Friday, November 18, 2005

Revelation 22:6-13

For those of you who have been following the devotionals during the reading of Revelation, you will know that we are at the end of John's dream. The horrendous battle between good and evil is over and Jesus has won.

There are two things that really interested me in these passages. First of all, you know how they say that anything in the Bible that is repeated must be very important? There are several quotes repeated in these verses. These are: "These words are trustworthy and true", "See, I am coming soon" and "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end." I think the reason for the repetition is fairly obvious. The first is to remind us that this isn't some wild, hair-brained dream of John's but a true revelation from God Himself as told through John. The second quote, I believe, is truly the "topic sentence" of this whole book, the statement of true hope for the world - See, I am coming soon. The third quote underscores this by reminding us that God is everything.

The second thing that interested, and puzzled me, was the 12th verse. Here, the angel explains that Jesus is coming soon "...to repay according to everyone's work." Whoa. I thought that works did not matter. What you need to do to get into heaven is accept Jesus Christ as your savior and repent. Now, repent means sin no more, or at least stop committing the sin(s) for which you repent. So, theoretically, one would need to start behaving differently once a person accepts Christ. But, if that was the case, the angel could have said "to repay those who have repented." That is not what the angel says.

I've had this discussion with lots of Christians. Do works matter? I know that works alone certainly will not get you a place in heaven. But what about the deathbed confession of the habitual criminal? He doesn't have any time left to prove that he truly repents. Does he get into heaven?

As we all know, Jesus alone knows what is in our hearts, as he would know the heart of the dying criminal. If we are truly Christians, if we truly repent, than our actions will speak louder than our words. We will not be able to help ourselves as we will want to share God's love with the world. So, our works won't be the admission ticket, it will be the love in our hearts.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Revelation 21:22-22:5

This year in northern Virginia we have had an unseasonably warm fall. Up until the last few days, my tomato and pepper plants still had fruit on them. The only problem was that there was no longer enough daylight for the fruit to actually ripen.

Of course it is not just plants that are adversely affected. People, too, notice the diminishing levels of light. For many it can be a source of depression. Without light, our well being begins to suffer.

This year in northern Virginia we also had a mini drought in the fall. It was becoming so severe that plants without well established root systems dried up and died. Even the leaves on trees were turning brown and dying.

Just like light, water is absolutely necessary to sustain life as we know it. So it is no surprise that these two elements are picked in this passage up as symbols of the power of God not just to sustain life but to cause it to robustly flourish.

Sadly, that’s not always the case in the world. People, and the life within them, are often crushed rather than cherished. Our world is full of violence, in all its various forms. People become increasingly disrespectful, rude, and hostile to one another. We become less and less mindful of the needs of others as we become more and more obsessed with our own.

God in Christ shows us a better way; a way of light and life, of free flowing water that revives the soul. For those of us who have had glimmers of that life already, we know that nothing else even remotely compares. And we long for the day when that life in all its blessed fullness is made manifest.

The promise of these verses, and the great hope they offer, is that one day, friends—maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week, maybe not even this century—but one day, that day will come.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Revelation 21:9-21

Today's reading provides us with a stunning description of the new city of God. Like much of the Book of Revelation, the description is symbolic and shows us that our new home with God will defy description. We will not be disappointed in any aspect of our future home with God.

The new city is enormous and layered with fine jewels and gold. It is large enough to hold all of us. Its description is meant to make us feel that it is a place we would want to go and never leave.

As Christians this is exactly what, I think, we want heaven to be. It should be a place to which we long to go. It should be a place to which we hunger to go. It should be a place in which we are so satisfied we will have no desire to leave. It should be a place in which there is a peace beyond our understanding.

If this description of heaven is what we believe, and when I say believe I mean truly believe in our hearts, then all of us should be very eager to get there. Yet, I wonder if we, or I, truly believe that this is what heaven is like, or sometimes if it exists at all. Because if we truly believe in this description of heaven, and that we will be able to spend all eternity there, what wouldn't we do in this life to get there? I mean that compared to all eternity this short, quick, blink of an eye 100 years we spend in this life is a nanometer on all eternity's timeline. So what task is too big, what sacrifice is too great for us to do or make in this life to obtain all eternity in heaven? Jesus confirmed that there is nothing we shouldn't be willing to do to earn our way into heaven; however, He said all we had to do was to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, love our neighbor as ourselves, and share the Word with others.

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Revelation 21:1-8

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

WOW! This is what we have been waiting for. For the last 3 Tuesdays we have been given John’s vision of the world with man’s suffering and the destruction of what he has created. There have been hints of the potential of redemption and salvation through a cleansing process. This week we get it all.

In 8 short statements, we get what we have yearned for – a loving God promising something new and wonderful to replace what has been lost. John the visionary describes the coming of a new heaven and a new earth. All is gone and replaced. Even the source (sea) of potential further destruction is gone. God presents the HOLY city, the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven (from GOD) as a pure bride beautiful to the eyes of her husband.

God delivers not only the New Jerusalem but himself as well. He is the new city and will dwell with his people. His people will no longer cry, feel pain and die. All these old world realities are no more. “Behold I make all things new” – “write this, for all these words are trustworthy and true” even the English poetry is beautiful.

Man’s want will be supplied and without payment. It is free. But is it really?? It is available to he who conquers. He then will receive this heritage and be the Son of God. Clearly Jesus conquered sin and death and inherited God’s promise. It is also available to every man.

HOWEVER, the vision ends with the solemn reminder that for those who do not pay the price of faith, --“their lot shall be the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death”. Isn’t it comforting to know that Jesus has paid the price for our soul and makes the New Jerusalem available to us all? This stuff just gets better and better.

AMEN
John Dickie

Monday, November 14, 2005

Revelation 20:7-15

Prior to this passage John has dramatized, often in vivid and fantastical ways, a cosmic conflict. It is the conflict between God and forces arrayed against God – Satan, strange creatures, socio-political regimes, larger-than-life individuals, and regular people. Through it all threads the greatest story of all creation, of all history, both cosmic and personal. This is the story of God’s saving power, triumphing over evil and its devastating effects through the Lamb who was slain and who was raised – Jesus, our savior and lord.

John begins in today’s passage to conclude the story with the final defeat. This is not the defeat of all that is godly and good, as the circumstances of life might lead us to expect, but the final defeat of all forces rebelling against God and assaulting the people God loves. Here at the end of chapter 20 of Revelation, John stands on the brink of splendor. It is a splendor he begins to depict in chapter 21. It is a sublime depiction of God’s transformation of all things into a new heaven and earth, beyond all degradation and devastation.

It is no great insight to observe that human history has been and continues to be plagued with evil and its devastations, including conflict, suffering, and death. All too well we know evil in our self and in our relationships. All too much we experience conflict, suffering, and death between people, communities, and nations. How utterly bleak life sometimes seems!

Yet, as John recorded spectacularly in this book of Revelation, evil is not the final word. Throughout human history, and especially uniquely and ultimately in Jesus, God speaks and enacts the last word, foretelling life and joy without conflict, suffering, and death. In the end – God’s end – all evil and evils are overcome. And in God’s end is our beginning, the transformation of your life and mine, of all creation and history, starting even now. May God write us into his story! May we live in his story with faith, hope, and love, more and more every day to the end. For the end is known, and it is a glorious beginning!

Gregory Strong

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Revelation 20:1-6

This passage gets us even closer to the ultimate finale. The thousand-year reign, the Millennium, has been the subject of contentious debate and will continue so. But more important to me, and I hope to us, is what it says about our current state and where we are going.

Evil in the world today is unbound. It impacts all of human-kind daily in ways large and small. It has led to suffering and all of the love-choking misery that spells death, bodily death and the death of the soul. Evil has not overcome God's goodness, but remains "at large" in the world.

Revelation 20 speaks of a future when God's power, through angelic power and the reign of Christ, bind up Evil and banish Evil from the world. Again, this is not a present-day reality, but because it is a future hope, it gives us strength to resist Evil in all of its present-day forms. Ultimately, it has no dominion over us--not through all the things, including suffering and death, that can be done to us.

And that gives hope for today, and ultimate hope that never dies.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Rev. 19:11:16

The Rider on the White Horse

Today after work as I walked in the woods the earth seemed gold. The sky was gold too in the sunset. The floor of the woods had a golden carpet of fall leaves too. Pretty good special effects (I just watched a sci fi movie). All that grandeur.

This passage describes grandeur. It’s about the coming of a king. This king is so great that we don’t even know his real name (v 12). He will rule and bring justice. Over all the kings of the earth, He is the King of Kings. (v 16).

This passage describes a rider who has come to rule all, riding on a white horse. Again the book of Revelation contains awesome images, but it helps to think in terms of worship. The rider, Christ, is first described as Faithful and True. Whatever happens in the rest of the chapter or in the rest of history, Christ will rule, and He is faithful and True. I can think of many circumstances in my life, including this week, in which He was faithful and true. The “little” circumstances this week include traumatic trips to the dentist and vet; seemingly trivial, but watched over lovingly by Jesus.

Verse 11 says, “with justice he judges and makes war.” We do shy away from the idea of anyone being punished but Scripture does not, and says that it will be done, and done with justice.

Today, as we go about our day, may we worship Jesus and be comforted, knowing that He will come to rule. This same Jesus, who will come in grandeur, comes to us in the quiet moments, if we can quiet ourselves in worship during the day.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Revelation 19:1-10

For people who have become bored with standard sports like golf or baseball, there is a new generation of activities called Extreme Sports. These feature a combination of speed, height, danger and spectacular stunts.

An example might be the relatively new sport of “thong grabbing”. This refers--of course!-- to the type of flip flops that are often called sandals or flip flops. Basically you jump off an obstacle and on the way down try to grab something with your sandals to break you fall. Check it out at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thong_Grabbin%27 if you are interested.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with anything. Well, John, in Revelation, uses what might be called “extreme pictures” — radically contrasting images of good and evil, light and darkness, life and death.

He does this to remind us of the essential truth of life: that you and I are headed for one of two spiritual destinies, and there’s nothing bland or lukewarm about either one of them.

We were made for extreme closeness with God-- extreme love, joy, meaning, and purpose if you will . But if we reject that, if we reject God, if we oppose him, then human beings, John tells us, will end up with extreme aloneness, hopelessness, and despair.

But either way, we are all headed for reality in a much more extreme form than we know it now. This world is only a shadow of what it is to come.

In this passage the image is that of a heavenly marriage. The truth it teaches is that we are made for an extreme intimacy with God that will satisfy our deepest longings to be loved and accepted. The vision is particularly compelling in that when the guests see the delight of the groom and the joy of the bride, and they cry out, "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!"

But there is also verse 7 "And the bride has made herself ready." Every time we obey, do an act of service or extend God’s love, we experience a little deeper intimacy with God, and the bride gets a little more ready. So, here is the question: What do we need to do to get ready?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Revelation 18:21-24

The reading today is very short, only four verses. But like a lot of Revelation it is somewhat confusing with its symbolism and creative poetry.

Today's reading is about the final destruction of our current reality. When the angel throws the boulder into the sea it symbolizes the conclusion of the judgments. The great and final city of the antichrist will sink into oblivion never to be heard from again.

In verses 22 & 23 we learn more about how final, or forever, the destruction of this city will be. Never again will we here the music of this city. Never again will be the sound of a craftsman plying his trade. Never again will the sound of domestic activity be heard. Never again will there be light on the streets or houses. Never again will there be the sound of weddings.

The last lines of verse 23 announce the reason for this city's final fate. Because of her great influence throughout the earth, "your merchants were the world's great men”, she had every opportunity to use her influence for good. Instead, "by your magic spell all the nations were led astray", she led mankind into false religion and the seductive belief that security can be found in the multitude of possessions. The final destruction will come because of our obsession with wealth and luxury and our wanton living.

When God destroys the final product of our civilization, a great wicked city, its commerce, religion, and culture will vanish forever because it enticed people away from true religion and holiness and into false religion and impurity. We should take warning from this reading and set more of our attention on heavenly things and less on fragile, temporary earthly things.

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

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Revelation 18:9-20

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

We continue this week with John’s revelation of the destruction of the Holy City described with much drama last week. Clearly, the kings of the earth (you and me) have become obsessed with this world (luxury) and worship it. To see it destroyed has destroyed us as well. It suggests that the “city” has provided security and protection. This is now gone. There is no security in this world.

He describers how the merchants of the earth who benefited most from the “city” now mourn their loss. Again, John uses very physical means to describe the valuable things that were lost. Everything from gold to gems to horses. He uses physical senses to describe spiritual reality. Isn’t it interesting that he ends the list long list of valuable things with “and bodies and souls of men.” Is this a reference to slave trade? Human life on a list of commodities. Yes, the Lord is angry for a purpose.

The reference to the ships and their cargos suggests that the perceived human value of the “city” was not limited only to those in it but spread throughout the world. The destruction of the “city” is a sign to the whole world that the Lord’s dominion is over all.

As the kings and merchants watch their world being destroyed they see only what they personally will lose. They are blind to the reason for it. They are also blind to what might come after it. What will replace the “city”? While there is suffering on earth, they rejoice in heaven. “God has judged her for the way she treated you.” This seems harsh and cruel on a human level. John however isn’t dealing on a human level. Following judgment and death there are rebirth and redemption. Jesus Christ is our proof. This is to come.

AMEN
John Dickie

Monday, November 07, 2005

Revelation 18:1-8

Much in Scripture refers primarily to individuals and their relationship with God. Other parts of Scripture refer primarily to groups or peoples and their relationship with God. Yet other parts refer primarily to nations and their relationship with God. Today’s passage fits into this last category.

Historically in Scripture, ancient Babylon represented an enemy to the people of God (Israel) and to God himself, to the peace, righteousness, and justice desired by God. John’s codename for RomeBabylon the Great – painted Rome and its empire with the same brush: an enemy to the people of God (the Church, or the Body of Christ) and to God himself, to God’s peace, righteousness, and justice.

There is an irony, intended by John, in the description of Babylon or Rome as “the Great.” No human being could have denied the power, wealth, and extent of nations like Babylon and Rome. From a human perspective, each in its own day constituted a great empire – an impressive aggregation of military might, organizational systems, cultural influence, and goods and commerce.

Yet they were not great in the sight of God for two reasons. One, no matter how powerful they seemed on the scale of human history, they paled before the scale of God, creator of the cosmos and lord of all history, from beginning to end. Two, they failed – even warred against – the peace, righteousness, and justice of God that, had they fostered them, would have made Babylon or Rome truly great in the sight of God.

Even as all humans sin and fall short of God’s good purposes and plans, so all human systems and institutions sin and fall short of the good that God intends. Empires, nations, and governments are no exception. Some fail more than others; and some actually war against God’s peace, righteousness, and justice. But all fall short. The temptation for nations is to act as if there is no God; or even more, to act as if they can be God over life, history, and destiny for themselves and for others.

As John vividly pictures in Revelation, our hope is not in empires, nations, or governments. Our hope is in Jesus, the Lamb who was slain. The Lamb rules history not through power as understood and exercised in human terms. The Lamb accomplishes God’s purposes – peace, righteousness, and justice – through sacrifice. May we love and worship the Lamb by following his example as we live in but not of the world.

Gregory Strong

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Revelation 17:1-14

In chapter 17 of the book of Revelation, John explains the mystery of the woman and the beast. That's the extent of the summary I can provide of this passage rich with symbolic imagery. Though the passage is difficult (for me) to understand, I did get its message of hope. There is much evil in this world. It is pervasive, and it is persistent. But its ultimate fate is clear: "As for the beast that was and is not,...it goes to destruction. (v.11)"

For the most part, we are sheltered from severe forms of evil. The war and suicide bombings are half a world away. Murders and burglaries are often committed in inner cities 30 or 40 miles east of our comfortable suburban dwellings. True, sometimes evil does hit home, but for the most part, it isn't our neighborhood or community or family whose name appears on the evening news or on"Dateline."

But the beast (evil; Satan) is here. It watches for opportunities to shift our focus away from God. Our culture, with its heavy emphasis on possessions, appearance, and wealth, makes it quite easy for the beast to worm itself into our minds and hearts. Skillfully, it finds ways to alter our judgment, helping us justify acts of unkindness towards others. Shrewdly, it turns us toward feelings of indifference and complacency, so that we do nothing toward the correction of injustices. Stealthily, it stirs up feelings of self-righteousness, sometimes even as we pray.

I also found the message of hope in verse 14: "They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is the Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful."

Dear Lord, in the ongoing war between good and evil that exists around our individual and collective worlds, may we answer Your call to remain faithful; may we recognize evil in all its forms; may we always stand behind You in battle with prayer. Amen

Martha Olson

Friday, November 04, 2005

Revelation 15:1-8

Okay, I don't particularly like the Book of Revelation. There, I've said it. It is an uncomfortable Book to me. Why? Because I don't know much about it. Every time I read it, I just get confused by the symbolism and the imagery. Also, I am put off by the violence. Sure, I've heard lots of different things about the Book of Revelation, mostly the rantings of those who believe the end is near based on the literal reading of the Book. Frankly, that kind of fanaticism scares me and that keeps me away from fully discovering this Book.

So, to prepare for this writing, I started doing some research. It was fascinating to me because I love history and to understand this Book, you need to know something about the history of the time. I'm not going to give you a history lesson and I will eventually get to the verses I am supposed to write about. But it is helpful to know a few things.

For example, I learned that the Book of Revelation comes from John's dreams that he had while a prisoner in a cave on the Greek island of Patmos. He wasn't really in prison, but was in exile and in a self-imposed prison, for the most part. John had very firm political beliefs that the Roman Empire was an illegitimate power and to accept the emperor the way you were supposed to in that day was idolatry. This was not a widely held view so it set John apart. In fact, many Bible scholars believe that the Book of Revelation is really a story of the collapse of the Roman Empire. One of the most widely held beliefs about the Book of Revelation, thanks to the influence of Constantine and St. Augustine, is that this is the story of the second coming of Christ and the end of the world. There will be wars, famine, disease, heavenly signs and crises. Then comes the Antichrist (although that word is not in the Book of Revelation). Then, the Antichrist is overthrown and Jesus Christ returns on a white horse to re-establish the kingdom of God.

With that little bit of history, let's talk about these verses. Thus far in this Book, John has introduced the main "characters" of the drama. We have seen horrific visions of destruction and death, culminating in the introduction of the beast. But, chapter 15 seems to be the beginning of the end of the story. The seven angels with the seven plagues are the last characters to be introduced because, as John sees it in his vision, after the seven plagues, God's wrath will be ended. Through Chapter 14, there has been a tapestry woven by John of symbols and characters representing good and evil. This is the world poised for the introduction of the Antichrist. It's a horrible place, with timely visions of God's love and mercy interspersed through the story.

Verse 2 is the pivotal verse to me in that it underscores the gist of this Book: Those who accept Christ as their Savior will prevail over the devil (i.e., the Beast). With all the myriad of controversy and interpretations of this Book, that is what it gets down to.

So, I have learned a great deal since I started working on this. Instead of being intimidated by the Book of Revelation, I find myself wanting to learn more about this story. I hope this has helped open your eyes and your heart on this Book as well.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Revelation 14:1-13

Would you like to know what the mark of the beast is? So would I. There have been quite a few opinions offered on the matter, with the most current being that it is some kind of bar code inscribed on the back of one’s hand or on one’s forehead.

Could be, but the most compelling explanation I've come across is that the mark of the beast is the life that fails to worship God. The last chapter ended with a riddle; that the number of the beast with which a person is marked is 666.

It makes sense to me that the answer to this riddle is that 6 is one number short of 7, and that 7 is the number of God with the threefold repetition highlighting its perfection. If the number of God, then, might be construed as 777, then 666 is the number of man.

To take the number of man upon one’s forehead is to think the thoughts of man, not of God. It is to set one’s mind on earthly things rather than heavenly things. And to take that number upon one’s hands is to do the works of man rather than the works of God; it is to use one’s hands for one’s own purposes rather than using them to accomplish the purpose of God.

That’s what it means to take the mark of the beast, and it was something the people of John’s day struggled with just like its something you and I struggle with. In a sense, it is the struggle of our lives –and not just a reference to some obscure future event that was as irrelevant to John’s readers as such a reference would be to us.

We are told to endure; to keep the commandments of God and to hold fast to the faith of Jesus. It is not easy; to the contrary, such faithfulness is hard work. The world around us sings such sweet songs, luring us in, distracting us with immediate gratification that seems to hold such promise for greater pleasure still… The mark of the beast opens so many wonderful doors to us in this world; it can be such a struggle to resist!

But for those who do resist, one day their labor will be over, and it will not be in vain. As The Message puts it, those who stay faithful to Jesus receive “blessed rest from their hard, hard work. None of what they've done is wasted; God blesses them for it all in the end."

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Revelation 12:1-12

In today's reading I particularly like verse 11. Verse 11 speaks to me. I find it extremely powerful and motivating.

"They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death." (Revelation 12:11)

Verse 11 points out to all of us that the critical blow for Satan came when the Lamb, Jesus Christ, shed His blood for our sins. This means that the ultimate victory was won and continues to be won by sacrifice - Christ's death in our place to pay the penalty for our sins, and the sacrifices we are obligated to make when we are faithful followers of Christ.

I believe Satan is real and exists in the world today. Satan presents temptations to us and encourages us to act upon those temptations. As we face the battle with Satan we should not fear it but we should follow the example of Christ. Jesus Christ provides us the power to resist Satan's temptations. By resisting Satan, our testimony can be inspirational to others. Our actions can influence the actions of others, and this can help draw others into a relationship with Christ.

The final item I wish to point out about verse 11 is the last part - the part after the semicolon. Christ's followers should not love their own lives so much that they are unwilling to die for Him. This verse tells me that those who are true followers of Jesus Christ must dedicate themselves wholly to His service. This means that no task is too great or too small if done in His service. There is no price too high to pay to be in His glory.

This verse inspires me. It helps me to remember all the Jesus has done for you and me. Remembering what Jesus did for us inspires me to offer my life to Him. After all, compared to all eternity, these 100 years we spend on this earth is no time at all.

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

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Revelation 11:1-19

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

As with last Tuesday, today John is teaching us and stimulating our spiritual imagination by describing his spiritual city. Here he does more than just describe it. He reveals it thru a story complete with action and drama. The vision reveals what has happened and what will happen. He uses the image of Christ as the link between the past and the future. Caution, you really need to read the passage for any of this to make sense. I do not pretend to understand fully what this all means. I know that many learned people have spent many hours trying to interpret this vision. I am not one of these. The best I can do is describe my reaction to reading it on a personal level.

Before, starting the drama, John introduces the image of measuring the size of the “city” and its contents. Again, he uses a physical sense to position us in a spiritual world so we can relate to it. It strikes me to ponder – is it only on Tuesdays where this recurring theme of physical/spiritual nature of man is happening? Who knows??

John describes the (2) witnesses providing sustenance (olive tree) and direction (lamp stands) with the POWER of prophecy also with the POWER to destroy. I interpret that their message was not welcome and caused the Beast (the souls of man) to rise up and silence them.

God then intercedes and raises them and calls them to Heaven. He then destroys the “City” with much death and destruction (hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, disease). Does this sound familiar??? God establishes his authority of the earth. The 24 elders claim, “the Kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever”. God’s covenant with man is complete.

WOW! In one vision, John has captured the Old Testament image of God’s Lordship over the earth; only now he introduces Jesus as the ways and means of achieving this Lordship. The wonderful image of Jesus as the cleansing agent of the world bringing us all into relationship with God the Father Almighty.

AMEN
John Dickie