Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Hebrews 11:13-22

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

Hello dear readers, its Tuesday with John. I travel too much. So far, this year has been the worst. As you can tell, I don’t like it very much however I have little choice as this is the job I am committed to do. When you read Paul’s fatherly guidance to the Hebrews, he speaks to our life in this world while looking ahead to our life in the next.

My traveling is a case where I am often wishing I were in a different place. I often feel like a stranger or an exile and often in a hostile land. Paul takes the argument for a homeland one step further. While we may long to return to the home we have left, we are told there is an even better home, ah yes, a Heavenly home. Yes! God has prepared a city for us. He goes on by repeating the Old Testament stories of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph (stories the Hebrews knew well) and illustrating their faith in God and being rewarded for their faith. God will fulfill his promise of the Holy City.

I am reminded of a very good friend who died of cancer many years ago in Florida. I knew she was dying and so did she when I last visited her only days before she died. I was very uncomfortable and nervous when I visited her. I did not know what to say to her. She knew I was uncomfortable. I remember giving her a hug and she grimaced with pain. I felt even worse. She took my hand with a tear in her eye and squeezed it with what strength she had and said. “I am going to a better place than this. I am going to prepare it for you and all the others I love. My job will be to keep the snow cleared off the walkway and to make sure to have the hot tea nearby. So don’t you worry, I am going to be fine and I will be waiting for you”

It is this kind of Faith that Paul is urging the Hebrews to recognize and the rewards that Christ has bought for us. Jesus is keeping the walkway clear for us and all we have to do is love and follow him. Wonderful stuff!!


John Dickie

Monday, January 30, 2006

Hebrews 11:1-12

Faith, it seems to me, is one of those words much used but perhaps little understood. We hear it often in general culture in statements such as “keep the faith,” “have a little faith,” “she broke faith with her friend,” “he lost faith in himself,” and more. We find it regularly in religious language. We hear of “people of faith,” “the Christian faith,” “faith in God,” “leap of faith,” “faith and reason,” and the like.

In Hebrews 11 we encounter one of the great passages on faith in the Bible. Here the invocation of faith is specific, concrete, and intensely personal. It is not vague, sentimental, or mushy in meaning. Let’s look at the author’s use of faith to see what it means.

At the end of chapter 10 of Hebrews, the author reminded his readers of the suffering they had endured for Jesus. The author exhorted them, despite adversity, to persevere in following Jesus. In the passage we read today, and the rest of chapter 11, he encouraged them with example after example of people in Israel’s history who had steadfastly lived by faith in God, people whom God had honored for their faith.

What do we learn from these heartening words?

Faith is not primarily about what we do not know. Faith is about what we do know. It focuses on what God has made and continues to make known about himself.

Faith, therefore, is assurance. The assurance of faith does not depend on our strength of will or character. The assurance of faith depends on God’s good and loving will, holy character, and insuperable power.

Faith, then, is trust – trust in God, known and proven in history. For God, in the history of Israel, and uniquely and supremely in Jesus, makes himself known as the lover of the world, of you and me, par excellence.

Following Jesus can be difficult. It can make us look foolish in the view of those who do not know him. It can endanger our success in this culture. It can endanger our physical well-being, even our very life. Yet God is faithful to us as he has been faithful to his people throughout history. We can trust him as we can trust no other person in this entire world. Because he is first and last faithful to us, we can and ought to be faithful to him, first and last.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Galatians 5:13-25

Do you ever feel out of step with the folks around you? I do. In fact, I feel out of step in these devotions. The lectionary for Sundays is a slightly different schedule than the other days of the week. You’ll notice the weekday readings are currently in Hebrews – here today we’re looking at Galatians. What’s up with that? I actually double-checked with Father Rob to confirm that I’m looking at the correct readings. Even though I feel like I’m on the wrong path, I know that I’m doing the right thing.

In today’s reading, Paul writes about two different paths, actually two different ways of living: walking according to our sinful nature, or walking in the Spirit.

Our society and culture will entice us to walk according to our sinful nature. Paul describes it this way: The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. (Galatians 5:19-21)

Society won’t be so blatant in its approach as it strives to pull us towards our sinful nature. The subtle words and ideas might be a little more like: sensuousness, “pushing the envelope”, help or get out of the way, stand up for your rights, losing your temper, putting people in their place, for mature audiences only, and the like.

In contrast to this way of life, Paul encourages us to walk in the Spirit. He describes it this way: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

The truth of those words stand by themselves.

I’ll close with the words, that Paul uses to conclude the reading: Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:24-25)

Alan Davenport

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Hebrews 10:26-39

“But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.” (Heb. 10:39)

In this passage, the writer to the Hebrews paints a picture that is black and white. Those who shrink back into a life of sin will be lost and must face God’s judgment. Those, however, who persevere in faith will be saved. But the faith that will lead us to salvation must be a strong faith, and we must be confident in that faith, for only that type of faith will help us endure and persevere in the face of adversity and temptation.

Today, the culture in which we live is vastly different from that of the Hebrews to whom this letter was written. Most Americas live safe, secure, insulated lives. Primary needs for food, clothing, and shelter are easily met. In such situations, the need for faith is not so evident. The need for faith becomes further obscured with the increasing importance and indulgence of our wants for the latest, the fastest, and the best that today’s society promotes.

Our excessive, permissive society is powerful, offering us false peace in the form of pills and contentment in the form of material possessions. It can quietly, skillfully chip away at the foundation of weak, superficial faith. So, it is imperative that we strive to strengthen our faith, and that we do this every single day. I can’t tell you specifically how to strengthen your personal faith in God, but I do believe it will begin with daily prayer.

We need to strengthen our faith daily so that we may survive real adversity and strong temptation. Will we persevere in our faith and trust God’s wisdom and timing in the face of dramatic misfortune? Or will we throw in the towel in frustration, anger, and despair? Will we stand firm in our faith, or will we shrink back and be lost?

Dear God, everyday we are faced with subtle temptations and challenges to our faith. We pray for Your grace to build up, to fortify our foundation of faith in You, so that we may live as true Christians in this world of permissive plenty. Amen. Martha Olson

Friday, January 27, 2006

Hebrews 10:11-25

This passage is initially about priests and the sacrificial system, but is also about hope and hopelessness, and about rescue. Paul reminds his readers that unlike Jesus, the Old Testament priests offered sacrifices over and over again but, as the paraphrase The Message puts it, "it never makes a dent in the sin problem" (10:11). That makes us hapless prisoners of sin.

My family and I were recently looking into a fishpond. Below the surface, quietly waiting for bits of food the other fish dropped, was a Jewfish (yes, that's his real name. He is a type of Grouper). Being a grouper this fish is good to eat, but being a Jewfish, he is protected by law (because of his gamefish status, not his religion). This is how he (or she) came to be in the fishpond; his life was about to end in the bottom of a fisherman's cooler. He was found by the police in the nick of time and the fisherman was apprehended. The Jewfish was revived and now lives in the fishpond.

As I watched him there in his pond, my heart went out to him. He was cute, in a lumpy, splotchy black and orange kind of way. I felt bad that he was once a hapless prisoner.

That sort of gut reaction, multiplied many times over, is how Scripture says God looked down on us, and caused Him to have mercy on us and to send His son, so that once for all, we would be free of the sin problem. (Hebrews 10:12). It was a rescue effected for some hapless prisoners of sin, and I pray that God continues to make us thankful for His mercy.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hebrews 10:1-10

Some time ago I read an article about establishing contracts in troubled marriages. In other words, as a way of creating a better path ahead, both parties create a document where they agree to do certain things.

The article I read said that in general, this approach does not work very well. Why? Because marriages were never meant to be legalistic undertakings, governed by rules and regulations. They were (and are!), of course, meant to be an expression of love. And frankly—if people won’t do something for love’s sake, it is unlikely they’ll do it just for the sake of satisfying a contract.

That is a lot of what the writer to the Hebrews is saying in this passage. The Law is good as far as it goes, but Christianity—like a marriage!-- was never meant to be a matter of simply observing rules and regulations. It is meant to be a matter of love.

That’s not to say that there are not things we should and should not do. The Law is most helpful in clarifying those, just as clarifying expectations in a marriage is a great gift to give one’s spouse. But we do these things, and live up to these expectations, because we want to, not because we have to.

True, it is not always that way. Sometimes we do what we have to even if we don't really want to. But I think the principle still holds—in the larger sense, we still want to do what is right (by God or our spouse) however we might feel about it in the moment.

And that’s the whole thing about sacrifices. Sacrifices are tit for tat; a strict legalistic correspondence between what is done and what is required in response. So, when some new offense is committed, a new sacrifice must be made, over and over again. There is nothing in reserve, no writing of the fundamental wrong which is at our being and not in the action itself.

Only pure, infinite Love, offered in perfect freedom, can do this. And this, of course, is what God offers us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

So let me ask us: Are our spiritual lives more a matter of “have to” or “want to”? Are we still stuck in the old way of satisfying demands, real or perceived, or the new and better way of having our very hearts changed so that what we do is what we love?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hebrews 9:15-28

Wow!! There is a lot in today's reading. If you have not read it I encourage you to do so now, prior to reading the rest of my comments.

Today's reading begins with the proclamation that Jesus Christ is the mediator of a new covenant. Jesus secured the forgiveness of our sins. The first covenant was when Moses brought the law (the Ten Commandments) to the Hebrews. During the first covenant man could stay in communion with God by obeying the law. However, when man broke the law (i.e., sinned) the covenant became ineffective and a priest had to sacrifice an animal (shed the animal's blood) in order that the sin be forgiven. In a simplistic view, someone or something had to pay for that sin.

Jesus Christ's sacrifice earned the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus shed his blood so we would not have to experience spiritual death - eternal separation from God. This act created a new covenant between God and man.

All people die physically. It is the one, and only, thing we all must do. Christ died so we would not have to die spiritually. Christ died so that we can live.

Paul reminds us that the sacrifice Christ made for us does not have to be repeated. Christ was sinless and he volunteered to die for us. This act of love was so great that it can bear the weight of all of our sins. The sacrifice was so large that it can atone for the sins of all of us who have lived or are yet to live. Can you imagine how big this sacrifice must have been? Can you imagine how perfect Jesus was to carry this burden? Can you imagine how much love he must have for us to make this sacrifice?

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Hebrews 9:1-14

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

I have always found it very interesting and satisfying to read how Christ fulfilled the promises of the Old Testament. Todays reading is Paul reminding the Hebrews of this fact. He describes in detail the Jewish Temple tradition. He describes it with love and respect as it reflects the relationship between God and his chosen people. This includes the significance of sacrifice and the need to purify ourselves in the presence of God. He states clearly that ----“The Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the sanctuary is not yet open as long as the outer tent is still standing”. He also says this is symbolic for “his” age. The offering of material sacrifice cannot make us worthy enough.

He introduces the wonderful image of Christ as the “high priest” entering the Holy of Holies and offering himself as a single and final act of sacrifice for me and you. This so we don’t need to do it individually but can atone for our sins through a life lived in Jesus. Our faith and a Jesus centered life style is all that is required from us. Jesus has done the rest.

Wow! What a powerful image he presents. We are reminded that in the Jewish tradition of blood sacrifice to sanctify for the purification of our bodies, this provided only momentary purification and required it to be repeated over and over. Paul reminds us that Christ’s sacrifice is for all time and continues to be alive in our spiritual link with the living God. Our continuing sacrifice is our faith and our good works. Thanks you Lord for this the greatest of all gifts.

John Dickie

Monday, January 23, 2006

Hebrews 8:1-13

During Jesus’ life on earth, and in those first years after his death, the critical question was this. Who was Jesus? This question really had two dimensions. Who was Jesus in relation to God? Who was Jesus in relation to humankind? For those who encountered Jesus directly or heard of him from others, there was little room for neutrality in responding to the question of who he was. He could not be taken lightly or casually as just another good person in the club of such men and women in human history. The claims Jesus made about himself, and the claims his followers made about him, made neutrality or even casual respect toward him non-options. Either he was devilishly deluded – and hence, not from God, but terribly dangerous to people. Or he was uniquely, definitively, and compellingly connected with God, with God’s loving and saving purposes on behalf of humankind.

In the framework of Israel’s worship and history, this is what the author of Hebrews conveyed about Jesus in today’s passage: Jesus’ unique, definitive, and compelling connection with God and with God’s purposes for us. In liturgical terms, Jesus was the high priest who represented God to us and us to God. In historical terms, Jesus was the mediator of God’s new covenant or relationship (only deeper and stronger) with us. Jesus came down from God to us. Jesus raised us up to God. Jesus connected God to us and us to God, for God’s glory and our ultimate and everlasting good. Neutrality and casual respect toward him were not possible. Some adored him and gave their heart, mind, and soul to him in love. Some rejected him and crucified him.

Yet God raised Jesus from death. Jesus continues to live with and from God! In God’s love and power, Jesus continues to act as high priest and mediator. He connects God to us and us to God. Those who give their life to Jesus in love become new people in him, whence they live with and from God. God, through the infusion of his Holy Spirit, writes the very life and character of Jesus into their hearts. This is God’s new heart-dwelling, pledge-binding, life-transforming relationship with people in and through Jesus. Will I be one of these people? Will you? In short, will we give our heart, mind, and soul to Jesus in love?

Gregory Strong

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Galatians 2:1-10

Sometimes as I read the letters of Paul, I forget about Paul as a man. I get caught up in his message and don’t remember the circumstances in which he lived, worked, and ministered. In today’s reading, I was intrigued by Paul’s mentions of Barnabas. Several times in these to verses, Paul writes about how “they” felt or how they “did not give in”. This caused me to pause, and I wondered about the friendship between Paul and Barnabas and its significance in Paul’s life and ministry: How friendly were they? What exactly was their relationship? If it was significant, why?

I did a little research and found a couple of things. Barnabas was leading a church in Antioch and when the church grew, Paul was recruited as an associate. Paul worked with Barnabas for several years and it was from Antioch that Paul set out on his missionary trips. On his first missionary trip, Paul and Barnabas traveled together. Paul and Barnabas were co-laborers and must have had a special relationship because of the times and trials they endured together.

I don’t think I’m reading too much into the verses from Galatians to say that Barnabas provided Paul with some critical support and that there was an increased effectiveness when they were working together.

After reading the verses from Galatians and looking a little closer at Paul and Barnabas, I began to think about relationships I have in the body of Christ and I asked myself some questions:
Am I a mentor to someone?
Do I offer support, advice, and encouragement to others as they are using their gifts and talents in the church?
Do people look at me as a helper or a hindrance?
Do I try to be a friend to others?

Paul was able to speak of Barnabas as “we” because they had invested time in each other and had a body of shared experiences. I would like to be part of a “WE” in the church. How about you?

Alan Davenport

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Hebrews 7:18-28

Today's passage from Hebrews continues and amplifies yesterday's discussion of a "man of mystery"--Melchizidek--and moves on to discuss the role of high priest which, we presume, would have been well known to the recipients of this letter. Our (unnamed, also mysterious) author in no way denigrates the role of the priests in the Temple, but does cite their critical limitations:

1. The High Priest was mortal. Even if appointed for life, when he died, someone else took his place.
2. The High Pries offered sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.
3. The High Priest's sacrifices were ongoing; their effectiveness was temporary.

By contrast, Jesus, the "Forever High Priest"
1. Is eternal, in place now and always
2. Without sin himself, sacrificed himself for the sins of all
3. Sacrificed once for all time on the Cross.

With the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, the High Priesthood as an institution ceased to exist. Jews no doubt felt the loss keenly. No longer did they have an earthly, physical intercessor. But for those who followed (and follow) Christ, the Eternal Intercessor does in a perfect way what the High Priest could only do humanly and imperfectly.

We who have never known Temple worship struggle to understand all this. It seems to have been vitally important, to those who had grown up with it but now were scattered, to find again that connection to the All-Holy which once was rooted only in Jerusalem. Thinking about that can help us, too, when we begin to think of our God-connection being limited by place or person. Human leaders and human-built buildings cannot stand forever; but one Person is standing (and waiting patiently) for us, every day.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Heb. 7:1-17

In yesterday’s (Thursday’s) devotional the concept of Christ as an anchor was discussed. In this seventh chapter of Hebrews, Paul goes on to show his care for the church by explaining further how Jesus is all the anchor they will need.
Paul carefully explains to his readers in terms they will understand and in terms of something they hold dear; the priesthood. For generations the Jews had worshipped God, following priests. So Paul discusses Melchizedek.
Paul uses the example of the priest and king Melchizedek, who appears in Genesis 14, to explain to the Jews some things about Jesus. First, Jesus has always existed. In a similar manner, Melchizedek’s genealogy is not mentioned in Scripture and even so, Abraham gave him a tithe like a lesser person would a greater person, Paul points out (v4). Like Jesus, Melchizedek is both a king and priest. At the end of this passage, Paul says, if perfection could have come through the Levitical priesthood, there would not be a need for another kind of priest to come, one like Melchizek. In Psalm 110, Paul points out in v. 17, it is prophesied that the Messiah would be a priest forever, like Melchizedek.
Paul uses these examples, which would make sense to a Jew. I have been thinking of an example from our times; the way things wear out and need to be replaced; cars, computers, our bodies, even sometimes our friendships or the people we look up to. But Christ, Paul would say, will never wear out. His priesthood and His throne will continue always. He will always be our anchor, priest and king.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Hebrews 6:13-20

Years ago, in a true story that perhaps sometime I will tell at greater length, we rescued a boat that had lost its anchor. Caught in the heavy current of an outgoing tide of a treacherous inlet, it had slammed into the concrete abutments of a bridge, cracking its transom and disabling the motor. It was 3AM, the boat was sinking fast, and the crew was inebriated. Loosing their anchor was for them a matter of life and death.

Is it any different for us? When people lose (or loose, as I first typed!) their anchors in life, things tend to go down hill fast. In the face of tragedy, which surely comes to us all, they are left with nothing to hold. In the face of temptation, they have nothing to hold them fast. In the face of finding meaning and significance, they find themselves set adrift without purpose or direction.

We all probably know people like this, and we’ve probably all been there ourselves somewhere along the way. It is not a pleasant place to be, is it?

Hebrews speaks of our hope in the promise of God and in His character that stands behind that promise as our anchor. Jesus is the embodiment of that hope, the fulfillment of God’s promise, the incarnation of God’s character. He plants the anchor firmly in heaven, and it holds secure.

As Abraham knew so well, God always makes good on His promises. Storms may rage (and they do.) Disappointments may come (and the do.) We may fail (and we will.) But our hope remains sound and unshaken, so long as we remain tethered to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

These are glorious verses for those of us who believe. But they should also provide us with a strong motivation to rescue those who have lost their anchor. Like the story with which began, the stakes are so very high.

It is hard to imagine any real follower of Jesus Christ, any real believer in God and His love, sitting safe and content on their well anchored boat while others are swept to sure destruction…

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Hebrews 6:1-12

I am intrigued by the second half of today's reading. Beginning with verse 7 where Paul talks about land that produces a crop useful to the farmer compared to land that produces thorns and thistles, is useless to the farmer, and ends up being burned. This metaphor is relating the land to our lives - more specifically, the way in which we live our lives. We all know that we are not saved by deeds or conduct, the only way we are saved is to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord, however, what we produce with our lives is the evidence or our faith. Someone who does not know us should be able to tell we are Christians by viewing the way we live our lives.

We can be doing many righteous deeds for the glory of God, but it is easy to get discouraged if we think God is not noticing. Verse 10 reminds us that God is always with us and always knows what we are doing. Just because in the present time we may not be receiving rewards or acclamations, this does not mean that God does not recognize our work. Verse 10 is meant to inspire all of us by reminding us that God loves us and has intimate knowledge of our actions. It helps me to remember this and helps to bolster me when I face disappointment or rejection here on earth. I hope it does the same for you.

Verses 11 and 12 remind us that this life is a marathon. As in a marathon, it is easy to start but hard to finish. Like an athlete, a Christian should be motivated to train hard and to run the race well by the reward that lies ahead.

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Hebrews 5:7-14

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

Today’s passage speaks of obedience. In 8 short statements, Paul describes Jesus as the loving Son who learned obedience to the Father though his suffering. He then challenges his Hebrew readers to also learn obedience. His writing is so direct and clear.

How do we learn obedience? Jesus knew who God was and recognized that only God could save him. He knew that at the end of the suffering there was life and hope. He had total faith that his Father would deliver. His obedience was based on this total faith and commitment. When I recollect back on those people in my life to whom I have been obedient, our relationship has been based on this respect for authority.

Paul is very hard on the Hebrews in this passage for their apparent lack of obedience. He challenges them directly on the maturity of their faith because of this lack of obedience. There have been many times in my life when I have a success in some way only to have a major problem follow immediately. When I think I have my act together and I think I am really in control of my environment, The Lord quickly reminds me that I am not in total control and never will be. What a wonderful thing – to know that I don’t have to be in control because he is and he is taking care of me. In Paul’s language, we must continue to be children in need of milk. I thank God every day for my darling wife who teaches me daily what faith in God looks like in practice. I continue to learn obedience daily. Thank God!

John Dickie

Monday, January 16, 2006

Hebrews 4:14-5:6

The author of this treatise or long essay which we call Hebrews pursued at least three major themes with his readers.

The author praised the exalted person, character, and accomplishments of Jesus in relation to God. Jesus radiated the glory of God. He uniquely revealed and lived the nature and will of God. Upon completion of his life, death, and resurrection in fulfillment of God’s purposes, Jesus ascended into heaven to dwell with God in perfect unity and love.

The author rejoiced in the humble person, character, and accomplishments of Jesus in relation to humanity. Jesus descended to dwell with us, to unite himself to us in mercy and love. He took upon himself all that it means to be human in a world both created by God and estranged from God: all the truth, beauty, and goodness; and all the sorrow, suffering, and death. Jesus did this, not in alienation from or resistance to God (which is sin), but in perfect collaboration with or obedience to God (which is righteousness).

On the basis of these two dimensions of Jesus – his exalted and humbled “sides,” or, his divinity and humanity, unified in the one person and work of Jesus – the author encouraged and exhorted his readers. He encouraged them with the good news that Jesus, in love, shared all that they experienced. No circumstance of life was beyond Jesus’ understanding, empathy, and aid. And, he exhorted them to hold fast to this good news, to Jesus himself. No circumstance of life should loosen, degrade, or put an end to this grasp or pursuit of Jesus. In these ways, the author of Hebrews called his readers to live truly, consistently, and increasingly in faith, hope, and love.

Today, we are those readers. Will we praise Jesus? Will we rejoice in Jesus? Will we take courage from Jesus? Will we hold fast to Jesus? In sum, will we live – ever more and more – in faith, hope, and love?

Gregory Strong

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Ephesians 4:1-16

Saturday I was driving with an acquaintance and during our conversation, he shared how he came to faith more than twenty years earlier while in college. He clearly recounted several situations where he saw people in relationship interacting in extraordinary ways. One example was of two people disagreeing and arguing but then coming together asking for forgiveness. Each recognized in themselves things that contributed to the disagreement and, valuing their relationship more than their personal rights, put aside their offense and apologized to the other. He told me that it was this “living” gospel that drew him into relationship with Christ. He saw something in these individuals that caused them to live and relate differently with one another. This was something that he wanted.

Today’s reading in Ephesians 4 describes that something:
“… live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (vs 1a-3)

These words to the church in Ephesus can be very helpful to us, giving direction in how we should strive to relate within our church family. I was struck by two points in this short passage. The first point is the attitude of unselfishness that is captured by the listed virtues of gentleness, patience, and long-suffering. The second point is how the bond of peace is the mechanism through which we endeavor to “keep the unity of the Spirit”. As believers, we have a common bond – our relationship with Christ and the Holy Spirit at work within us. By focusing on this common bond and unselfishly looking out for the good of others, we will find ourselves living the life worthy of the calling we have received.

My friend saw people in college living this “worthy” life. This drew him to Christ.

Alan Davenport

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Hebrews 4:1-13

In this part of the letter to the Hebrews, the author tells us that God’s “...promise of entering his rest is still open.....” and that “...it remains open...”

It’s natural for us to think that God’s “promise of entering his rest” refers to our life with God when we die. After all, many a headstone is engraved with the message: “Rest in Peace.” In funeral homes, we often hear such comments as: “She’s at rest now.” Even the Burial Service in the Book of Common Prayers includes such prayers as: “May his soul, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.”

In the letter to the Hebrews, however, we are told that God is offering his promise of rest right now. We can Rest in [God’s] Peace “Today, if you hear his voice.”

During our Sunday services Fr. Rob says, "The peace of the Lord be always with you," and we turn to our neighbor and offer the same. Except for that brief period, we probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to have God's peace, to Rest in Peace, in our daily lives. But there are times when we do crave God's rest. We crave God’s rest when we experience pain, like the loss of a loved one, or the heartache of a broken relationship, or the anxiety of a serious illness. We pray, often pleading with Him, that God take our burden and give us peace, give us rest.

Fortunately, pain and suffering are not required for us to receive God’s rest. What is required, per this letter, is having faith in God’s word, obeying His laws, and making every effort to live as His word teaches.

What can be more worthwhile than working to receive God’s rest today? With faith and obedience, we’re already half way there. The final piece involves the choices we make each day in living life as His word teaches. What effort will you make daily to Rest in God’s Peace? Today, how will you live His word?

May the peace of the Lord be always with you. Amen.

Martha Olson

Friday, January 13, 2006

Hebrews 3:12-19

I’m not a Bible scholar, as I have said in previous devotionals. But, I am a history buff. That is one of the side benefits to me of writing these devotionals. When a spiritual theme does not become immediately apparent, I look into the history, which is really fascinating to me, and I usually get spiritually charged.

Take the Book of Hebrews. When I first saw the passage I was thinking “Why do they call this Hebrews? Weren’t they all Hebrews at that time?” This particular book is named based upon what the intended audience believed, not where they lived. Interesting (at least to me it is). Looking at a study bible, I found out that the writer (Note: They believe it was Paul but there is no proof that it was Paul that wrote this book) was writing this for those particular Hebrews who were doubting their new Christian faith and were starting to return to traditional Hebrew ways and teachings.

In this passage, the writer reminds the reader that those who disobey God are punished. The writer does this using what the chosen audience knows best – references to the Old Testament. The writer is out to remind readers that Christ is above the Old Testament prophets. He is reminding them that with the death and resurrection of Christ, there is no turning back to the “old ways”.

This is no different than our lives a couple of thousand years later. Once we accept Christ, it is all too easy to shift into old habits. We rationalize our actions by telling ourselves that we go to church, we listen to the sermon and our spirituality is motivated to again rise above the everyday matters. But, then there is Monday morning. Back to the routine. How do we escape this and truly “continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou [God] prepared for us to walk in…”?

Well, friend, you are already on your way. You are reading a daily devotional. You’ve taken that step towards rising above the everyday. Congratulations!

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Hebrews 3: 1-11

Often we are tempted to choose sides or pick favorites; vanilla is better than chocolate for instance. The truth is, there is plenty of room to enjoy them both, and each has its place.

When the letter to the Hebrew’s was written, people were saying that Moses was better than Jesus or that Jesus rendered Moses irrelevant and out of date. In effect, they were forcing a choice between the two—and incidentally, there are still plenty of people trying to that today. (Ever hear anybody say “The New Testament is about a God of love but the Old Testament is all about a God of wrath!”)

The writer to the Hebrew’s says, in effect, that “there’s plenty of room for both.” Both Jesus and Moses’ have an important role to play in the life and history of God’s people. Neither can be ignored or discounted.

Still, he is careful to distinguish between roles of Jesus and Moses, and to make sure his readers realize that Jesus is to be given the place of greater honor. This is not meant to denigrate Moses. Only when we fully realize who Jesus really is will we then realize what a glorious thing it is to be counted his faithful servant.

The point seems to be that we need to recognize and value God’s work both in Moses and Jesus so that we can recognize and value God’s work in our selves and in one another. There is continuity there, a consistent revelation of what it means to be a fully devoted God-follower.

In other words, if we are ever going to get where God is trying to lead us, we must keep our minds on what God has done. That, of course, is what God is still doing: reconciling the world to Himself in Jesus Christ as we do our part in spreading the message of His grace and love.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Hebrews 2:11-18

What is the one thing that all of us must do in this life? Hint: It is not paying taxes. The only thing all of us have to do is to die. For everything else in this life we have a choice. Sometimes the choice is not pleasant (even though many people say you have to pay taxes you do have a choice, you could choose to go to prison instead) but it is a choice just the same. Today's reading reassures us that the only thing all of us have to do is not something to be feared.

Hebrews 2: 14-15, "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." When Christ died on the cross he defeated Satin and thus defeated death. By defeating death He earned eternal life for all of us. If Christ had not come in human form and had not paid for our sins with His sacrifice, then the one thing all of us must do should be feared - as who among us could pass the test of judgment? But for all of us who truly believe that Jesus is the Christ, death should not be feared. It is not an end but the doorway to a new and wonderful life.

Do you know anyone who fears death? If so how can you share this truth with that person? For if that person became a follower of Jesus Christ, or deepen their faith in Jesus, that fear of death may be removed from their life. Today's reading reminds us not only of the great sacrifice Jesus made for us but that we should share this with those who do not fully appreciate its meaning. Remember, God wants you and me to come to heaven, but He does not want us to come alone.

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Hebrews 2:1-10

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

How many times have you been told to pay more attention to what you are doing? This is an instruction I have heard many times. From my parents, my teachers and yes, my boss. This is Paul’s instruction to the Hebrews. He instructs them to stay focused and not to drift away. It is easy to focus and concentrate on the Lord during prayer or during church services. It is not so easy on Monday morning when you are stuck in traffic or you are late for a meeting or you are working to meet a deadline.

I know that God loves me. This reality affects my behavior when I stay focused. However, when I am distracted and concentrate on other pressing concerns my attitude changes and normally not for the good. Jesus came to earth “lower than the angels” and experienced human weakness. God raised him up to Glory to govern us all. This glory was earned by his suffering for us. Christ tasted death for us all.

How can we be distracted from the grace of God and his unearned gift of salvation? We all know how easy it is. However, there are certain personal disciplines that can help us to remain focused on our spiritual self. I have a short personal prayer that I say over and over throughout the day. I may be sitting at stop signs, riding in elevators, sitting waiting for a meeting to start. It is a prayer of thanks. I am amazed at how it affects my response when I am angry or stressed. God loves us and we just need to remind ourselves of this wonderful gift. Is there anything more important than that? I don’t think so.

John Dickie

Monday, January 09, 2006

Hebrews 1:1-14

Many years ago, an Anglican clergyman named J.B. Phillips wrote an interesting little book called Your God Is Too Small. Phillips challenged people to grapple with the reality that God is vastly “larger” than the limited mental, experiential, and spiritual categories with which they often conceive him, approach him, and live from him.

For many, our Jesus is too small. We constrict him within the bounds of our own humanly limited framework. We slot him into nice, neat categories of thought and experience which we can easily comprehend, accept, and control. Thus we can take him in safe, small doses with relatively minor and self-manageable effects on our life – how we view the world, how we behave, what we experience and desire and pursue.

In this book’s opening four verses – a dazzling jewel of compact, sublime expression – the author of Hebrews sweeps aside any possible small approaches to Jesus. The author sets before us a Jesus as absolutely “large” and grand as God himself! The one who was born a little child in a cramped corner of the world, and who walked and talked and sweated and died along with us, is the very radiance or effulgence of God’s glory, the very representation or expression of God’s nature and will in the world. This Jesus, in a mind-stretching mystery of divine power and purpose, sustains all things, including our own lives, in existence. And more, by a supremely stunning act of self-sacrificing love, the same Jesus makes you and me and the entire cosmos right again with God.

Yes, “what a friend we have in Jesus,” as Joseph Scriven exclaimed in his heartfelt, old hymn. Yet, how much more than just a friend he is, and therefore how astonishingly remarkable, even wondrous, it is that he is our friend as well! In return can we give Jesus anything less than our truest, deepest, and greatest devotion and commitment?

Gregory Strong

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Ephesians 1:3-14

Our culture often teaches us to have a short memory. The phrase, “What have you done for me lately?” is commonly heard, and if not spoken it is a phrase often thought.

The tyranny of the immediate consumes our resources and dominates our thoughts. At work, at home, and at church we become firefighters – moving from one fire to the next, extinguishing the daily flames of problem, worry and circumstance. We take on a crisis mentality and become focused only on the moment, rarely taking time to reflect on the successes, triumphs, and blessings of the past.

Evidently, we are similar to the Ephesians in this respect for Paul uses today’s reading to remind them not only of what God has done for them but to remember God’s promise for their future. The verses are true for us as well, so let’s reflect on them for a moment and remember what God has done for us and promised to us:

He chose and predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, to be holy and blameless in his sight that we might be the praise of his glory.
He blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
He revealed to us the mystery of his will and marked us with his Holy Spirit.

It’s a good thing to step away from the demands of the moment, look back to remember God’s faithfulness, and to look forward with hope to the eternity we have waiting for us.

Alan Davenport

Friday, January 06, 2006

Ephesians 6:10-20

The Armor of God

This is a well-known passage in which Paul teaches the Ephesian believers about the armor of God. The passage contains great imagery about our God-given armor against the “devil’s schemes” (v 11). I’ve read this passage for many years. When I re-read it this week it occurred to me to wish that we weren’t in a battle in the first place. Stay alert, Paul says, (v. 18), which to me means don’t forget to look beyond my daily life to see not only spiritual struggle but also God in each encounter or experience during my day.

One of the themes Paul stresses in the book of Ephesians is the heavenly or divine realms. In the very beginning of the book, verse 1:3, in his greeting, he says God blessed us in “the heavenly realms.” Paul reminds us that our struggle is not earthly; rather it is really against the spiritual forces of evil which struggle against God in the unseen world (v. 12). No wonder I need that armor. It really makes me think that my daily struggles, for example with impatience, have more significance than mere character development.

God’s word is such a blessing to me because even familiar passages carry new words from God. This week Paul’s admonition to pray, pray, pray in verse 18ff seems so practical. As we pray we access this heavenly realm directly. I can hear the sounds of battle. Pray.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Ephesians 6:10-20

It’s the start of a New Year. How is your prayer life?

This passage speaks of a battle in which we are all involved—the fight to be who God created us to be and do what God desires us to do. And make no mistake—it is a fierce battle indeed. As the Message translates verse 12, This is no afternoon athletic contest that we'll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

That is something we’d all do well to remember, because part of the temptation is simply to be entirely too casual about our faith.

The alternative is to do the preparation necessary to “stand firm”. Paul describes this as putting on the armor of God. It is in this context that he specifically mentions our need to pray.

Did you notice the wording? We are to pray at “all times” (on every occasion, in every season); using “all kinds” of prayers “always praying” for “all the saints”. Those “alls” don’t leave much out, do they? Sounds like a prayer bathed life to me.

So how is your prayer life? Are you casual about it or committed to it?

My guess is that the answer to that question will have a lot to do with the trajectory and quality of our spiritual lives in 2006.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Ephesians 5:1-20

In today's reading, Paul encourages the Ephesian Church to be imitators of God. But how does one imitate God? What does Paul mean by this? I submit it is simple, live a life full of love. As C. S. Lewis says, "When I have learned to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now."

I am certainly not the best subject for this, but the best way I know to show love and thus to teach others about Christ is through example. As the English author Samuel Johnson once wrote, "Example is always more effective than teaching." Albert Schweitzer said, "Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing." Children become like parents, churches become like pastors, and students become like teachers all because the power of example.

Ephesians 5 begins with an appeal to this principle of showing others the love of Christ by the way we live our lives, "Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children; and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us..." Living a life in which others can see the love of Christ is certainly not easy. However, it is what each of us as Christians are called to do. We are called to love God, to put others before ourselves, and to live our lives in a way that demonstrates this to others.

The Great Commission that Christ gave to each of us is to go out and spread the Word. There are many ways to spread the Word, but one of the most powerful is by the example we set in our daily life. By setting this example, God will open doors for you to discuss your faith with others. This happened to me. We where having a very tough day at work when someone asked me how I was able to stay so calm. This opened the door to a discussion about my faith. This person has since joined their local church.

Setting the proper example is not always easy. When you feel down you might find it difficult to set a good example - I know I do. When this happens to you remember to thank God for the strength to carry on and remember God's love will see you through. Another example Christ gave us.

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

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Ephesians 4:17–32

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

Happy New Year to you dear reader and may God bless you and everything you do this year. I have never been one to make new years resolutions. I know my will power is weak. There is no joy in confirming this each year. However, I must agree that the principle of looking at your life and identifying areas for improvement is sound. There are just so many and where do I start?

As in all his letters, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians provides some very clear instructions on how to life a life in Christ. It is a help desk and Christian instruction book in one. He starts this passage by telling us to stop living only with our mind and intellect. However smart we may think we are, we are all actually pretty ignorant if we rely only on what we know. He suggests that our intellect alone will harden our heart. This will lead to self-protection, and greed and separate us from others and particularly from God.

This is close to home for me. I spent many years in school trying to find rational explanations for everything including God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I have not been successful and have given up. God blessed me the day I gave up. That was the day I discovered my spiritual reality. Paul refers to it as “—being renewed in the spirit of your minds.”

In 4:26 Paul tells us how to deal with anger. He acknowledges that even being renewed in the Spirit does not change our basic nature. It allows us to deal with our nature as God would have us do. Anger is a very human trait and I can speak with authority on this. We are told that anger is “OK” but we cannot sin as a result of that anger. Our behavior to others must not reflect that anger. Anger is an opportunity for the Devil to do his work. We must deny him this opportunity. My mother used to say (yours did also, probably), “if you don’t have anything nice to say – say nothing”. This is so true when you’re angry. Also, we are told to never go to sleep angry. What ever the problem is that is making you angry, DEAL WITH IT!!. That’s easy for Paul to say but so hard for us to do. Oh Well, 2006 offers another year for us to try to get it right.

Again, may God bless my and your efforts to try and get it right.

John Dickie

Monday, January 02, 2006

Ephesians 4:1-16

When I was an infant I was truly but not fully human. Being truly human – in the sense of being human instead of some other creature – is only the beginning of being fully human. To live into the fullness of human personhood takes a lifetime.

We see this manifestly in children. Children grow in many ways: intellectual; emotional; moral; and spiritual. That children grow physically seems to make visible the reality of their non-physical growth. We expect change over the years for children. We expect growth in a myriad of ways, physical and non-physical.

When we reach adulthood, we may lose much of this expectation for our self. We no longer mature physically as children do. We age instead of mature. To the extent we grow physically, it is often in unhealthy ways. Sadly, along with this we may lose an expectation of continual maturation in intellectual, emotional, moral, and spiritual ways. Far too much, we only grow in these things unevenly, fitfully, or meagerly.

Yet Paul, in this rich passage in Ephesians, exhorts us to continual spiritual growth or maturation. His evocative phrase – “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” – and his unpacking of it deserve our long, prayerful reflection. In this space we can only note two principles of great importance.

The one principle is the necessity of spiritual growth. God truly gives us new life in Jesus. The fullness of this new life requires growth over time. It is unworthy of Jesus and our relationship with him to remain spiritual infants. We must grow in spiritual maturity over our entire life. The second principle is the measure of a worthy life. God calls us to live in a manner worthy of the new nature he has given us. How do we know what is worthy? A clamor of voices in our culture promote this or that standard of the full and good life. Paul points to one standard only: “…become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

God makes us new people. God energizes us through the Spirit to mature continually. God shows us in Jesus what it means to live truly and fully human, over this life and into the next. What a glorious goal! Nothing else is as worthy as what God desires and makes possible for us in Jesus! May we, with Paul, ever grow in living a life worthy of what God has made us.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Revelation 19:11-16

As I read today’s reading in Revelations, I was struck by ALL the adjectives and word pictures used in the passage. My imagination was stirred by several descriptions in particular.

The first was the identification of the rider of the white horse as Faithful and True (vs. 11). Clearly, the rider is Jesus, but as I thought about this image, I was struck by how obvious it was to John with what words to tag the rider. I began to personalize the image and I wondered how people see me, and I questioned myself: “As people see me, what do they call me? What are the words that people use to describe me?”

Another description that grabbed me was that of the armies of heaven. They wore fine linen, white and pure, and riding on their own horses – they followed Jesus (vs. 14). I thought, “It’s a good thing they were riding horses, too. If they were riding something else they wouldn’t be with their leader.” This made me ask myself, “What kind of Jesus follower am I? Am I in step with Jesus?”

The final picture that engaged my imagination was of Jesus treading the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (vs. 15). While not a terribly pleasant task, it was a task appointed to Jesus and one he executed without question. I asked myself, “How do I work for God and what tasks has he appointed me?”

While the questions may be pertinent to you, I really just share them to let you see one of the ways that God speaks to me through his Word. I believe that a holy imagination can be a wonderful tool in moving us forward in our walk of faith. I would encourage you to let the word pictures and descriptions from the Bible move beyond your intellect to your emotions and imaginations.

Alan Davenport