Tuesday, February 28, 2006

philippians 3:1-11

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

Dear reader, my best wishes for a good day for you. What does God have in store for you today? As my friend Forrest Gump would say, "--- it is like a box of chocolates, you don't know what you are going to get." Let me add – and you will like it. That is today’s message from Paul to the folks in Philippi. He rejoices in knowing that every day with Jesus Christ in his life is better than his prior life before knowing Christ.

While we rejoice in the Lord we must remain conscious of the world around us and the threats that exist in it. He reminds his readers that just being in the Jewish community does not protect them fully from the treats around them. He speaks with some pride of who is (was) within the community (tribe, club). He is proud of the "valuable" status and position he achieved. Does this sound familiar? When you are in a club, don't you want to be recognized by the club? Sure do! The Jewish community were chosen by God and set them apart from the others. The community held a very special place in God’s eyes; but did the individual??

God’s gift of Jesus Christ set this straight. His personal redemption clearly illustrated that we as individuals are recognized by God as his chosen person. Paul acknowledges this to be infinitely more valuable than recognition by the community. In fact, he considered it a "loss" as compared to the “gain” of a personal relationship with God through his son Jesus Christ.

Praise God that I learn something every week as I do my reading for Tuesday. This week I learned that Jesus Christ provides me direct access to the salvation I seek that can come only from God and not from a club or community, --- and clearly not the Company I work for. Praise God!


John Dickie

Monday, February 27, 2006

Philippians 2:1-13

We have in today’s reading one of the great passages in Scripture. Here Paul tenderly yet passionately urged Christians in Philippi (in Macedonia) to follow the example of Jesus by experiencing and practicing a deep, humble love among themselves. We do well to mine the ore of this passage with a strong desire to possess its riches. In it we will find not the world’s riches but heaven’s.

Philippi was a significant city in the first century A.D. With a wide diversity of people, ideas, and religious practices, it straddled a major road between the western and eastern spheres of the Roman empire. In this swirl of forces, the Philippian Christians suffered because of their allegiance to Jesus. Such pressure on them raised the specter of ill will and conflict in their community. Paul, aware of this, exhorted them to be united with each other in love even as they were united with Jesus.

The pattern for living out this unity is found in Jesus himself. With a stark beauty, today’s passage describes this pattern in the divinity and humanity of the person and life of Jesus – what in theology is called Christology. Now Paul primarily wrote this passage not to instruct in theology or Christology. He wrote to instruct in life. However, the life instruction depended on the Christology.

The Christology is this. Jesus was fully divine. Yet he did not “grasp” divinity such that he felt no compassion toward sinful, broken humankind. Rather, he humbled himself to enter human life truly and fully – what we call the incarnation. He so humbled himself (the Greek in verse 7 can be translated “slave” as equally as “servant”) that, to love God and us faithfully, he willingly suffered the most excruciating and abasing death the ancient world knew.

The life instruction is this. If Jesus so humbled himself in love to bind himself to us and us to God, and if we say we are united with him, we should live specifically, concretely in love as he did. We should live in such deep, humble love for others that we turn our back on all self-centeredness and selfishness in order to serve others first, to put others’ interests before our own. If this passage does not turn us from the pursuit of worldly ambition, wealth, and self-importance, what will?

As we set our faces toward Jerusalem this Lent, may we – “through self-examination and repentance, by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word” (Ash Wednesday liturgy, Book of Common Prayer) – lay aside ourselves to love and follow the example of our savior and lord, humbled and crucified for us.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, February 26, 2006

2 Corinthians 3:7-18

Today’s reading had a phrase that really caught my attention: “For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory.” (2 Corinthians 3:10)

I remembered as a young boy when I first received a $20 bill as a gift. I thought I was rich! Then in college when I was working a direct sales job, someone paid me in $100 bills and I knew that I had reached a new understanding of the value of a dollar. Now I have monthly bills that are each hundreds of dollars and at my work, we often discuss amounts in the millions of dollars. As I have worked and been responsible for my own spending and saving, my perspective on the value of a dollar has changed.

When I first read today’s verses from Corinthians, I thought it was talking about a changing perspective or a maturing of understanding that brought the “greater” glory more clearly into focus much like my understanding of the value of a dollar has changed; but as I read and thought more about the verses, I realized they were talking about a real change in substance - a replacement of glory for a greater glory. The glory of God as revealed through his law and as seen in Moses’ face is surpassed by the glory of God incarnate in Christ!

The verses talk of no longer living under the law but turning to the Lord, living in the Spirit and being transformed into the image of Christ as he works in and through us. This is more than just a change of perspective, it is a deliberate choice and a change of substance - our will for the Lords' will. My prayer for each of us is that during this Lenten season when we focus on the realization of the greater glory – Christ, we may find ourselves truly being transformed.

Alan Davenport

Saturday, February 25, 2006

2 Timothy 1:1-14

Paul wrote this letter to Timothy while in prison and in anticipation of his own execution. Paul was greatly concerned for the welfare of the church and for the spreading of the gospel and so, with a sense of urgency, he was blunt with Timothy. “For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (v.7)

Facing tough times, and believing that Timothy would also face tough times, Paul wanted to encourage him. Paul wanted to inspire Timothy, to fan the flame for Christ what was within him so that he could carry on, even without Paul, in spreading the good news of salvation.

I don’t watch a lot of television game shows, but I do remember one in which an individual considered “the weakest link” was dismissed from a group. I thought that was a very clever phrase. It conjured up a mental picture of a sturdy chain, but with one link so stretched that it could snap at any moment.

Perhaps Paul was concerned that Timothy was weakening as a link in the chain of Christian ministry that connects man to God. Though most of us are not ordained ministers, each of us is charged with Christian ministry in spreading the gospel, and we are charged to do so boldly through the power of God and the Holy Spirit living in us. How sturdy a link are you? How sturdy a link am I?

Dear God, as Paul urged Timothy, may we “rekindle the gift of God that is within” and, with courage and faith and love and self-discipline, boldly spread the good news of salvation. Paul wrote: “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” (v.14) May we do so faithfully.

Martha Olson

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Philemon verses 1-25

This past Sunday in church I sat behind Rachel, a toddler friend. She was sitting next to Laura, a teenager. Rachel had some small pieces of paper on which she was drawing. Laura took one and wrote “I love you,” and gave it to Rachel with a big smile. The service continued. At the end of the service we all stood to sing. I was touched to see that, in her little hand, Rachel still clutched the slip of paper with the message written on it. I could read, “I love you,” in between her little fingers as she clutched the paper like we would clutch an admission ticket.

When I read the short (one chapter long) book of Philemon, at first it was difficult, as it’s written about a slave, and no one wants to think about slavery. But God’s love is our ticket, and His love in the form of Jesus’ death will be the ticket for all of us, no matter what situation in our life we face that we cannot change.

By way of background, Onesimus was a slave who had stolen from his master Philemon and run away, and then met Paul and become a Christian. In this letter Paul asks Philemon to take Onesimus back and treat him fairly rather than punish him (the punishment could have been death). This shows that little by little, God’s love can change situations. First, Philemon was called to show love and mercy to a slave instead of treating that person with disregard or worse. God’s love can open our minds and hearts to show love to persons or in situations where we hadn’t even considered reaching out before. Like little Rachel clutched her “ticket” which she couldn’t yet read, may we pray to be open to God’s love and to showing it to others in new ways.

1 John 5:13-21

Although I’m late writing this devotional, that does not reflect the amount of time I’ve spent studying it and reflecting upon it. I’m late writing this because I still really don’t know what to say.

Though John seems to assume that his readers will know what he means by a “mortal sin”, it is far from clear to me (and, judging by the amount of material I’ve read on it at this point, is far from clear to others as well). What is a “fatal sin”; one that so surely leads to death that it is not even worth praying for?

Probably the most common interpretation is that this refers to a sin in which we persist even though we know it is wrong. Over time, the argument goes, we cease to be sorry for it and therefore are no longer able to repent.

But that surely won’t do—and if it does, I expect a great many of us are in serious trouble. Take gluttony (i.e., over consumption, out of control eating, perhaps even idolatry in using food to fill the spaces inside that only God was designed to fill). Just today (well, it was yesterday now), for instance, I went to Pepe’s Mexican buffet, my favorite place for lunch. After a full meal with seconds, I still manage to squeeze in three helpings of dessert. After all, Lent is coming.

Gluttony, you will remember, is one of the seven deadly sins. But the honest, ugly truth is that doesn’t stop me. And if the number of overweight Christians out there is any indication (a study was done by Purdue, I believe, that showed Christians were more likely to be over weight than the population in general), I’m not alone.

So what are we to make of this text? Well, as is so often the case in Scripture, if we go with what do understand, it may not be quite as tough as sometimes people make it out to be. And so what we need to do is:

*Believe in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, for the sure knowledge of eternal life.

*Pray with boldly for one another, confident that God will bring his power and provision to bear in enabling us to accomplish his will.

*Allow Christ to draw near to us and walk with us in such a way that His presence protects us from the evil of the world and helps us to better understand (and embrace)His ways.

In other words, sinful though we yet may be, we are to stick so close to Jesus Christ that we cannot help but continue to be radically transformed by His grace and love.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

1 John 5:1-12

In today's reading is one of the most direct statements that Jesus is the one and only way to eternal life. It is reassuring to hear these words. It is difficult to do sometimes in today's hectic, chocker block full, life, but these words should bring peace unto us and thus help us navigate our lives.

"He who has the Son has life;" Whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life. Please note the tense of the verb. It is present tense. It is not will have eternal life, it is has eternal life. You do not need to wait for eternal life because it begins the moment you believe. It is continuous. There is not an ending to one life (i.e., death) and a beginning of another. Sure you might lose your human body, but the eternal life promised by God will endure.

We do not even have to work for eternal life, because it is already ours if we believe in Jesus. We do not have to worry about it because we have been given this gift by God - and God has guaranteed it.

Yes, today's reading should be seen as extremely reassuring. "Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God." (1 John 5:5) Today's reading should help us keep things in the proper place. God promises that all who believe in His son, Jesus, will have eternal life with Him. What a glorious, generous, and loving God we serve.

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

1 John 4:7-21

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

Today, it is all about Love. Sounds like song lyrics, doesn’t it? Well, John is not writing song lyrics but he is talking about Love. He talks about it to the extent that the word Love appears 25 times in the 14 verses. John reconfirms the commandment that we Love one another. He reminds us that God loves everyone of us even when we are unlovable in human terms. This total Love for us is illustrated by God sending Jesus to abide among us to teach God’s Love by example.

I am sure that like me, there have been Sunday sermons that have stayed in your memory and where the teaching has had a great influence on you. I clearly remember such a sermon from 25 or 30 years ago where I was introduced to the 3 kinds/types/forms or levels of Love. Eros (physical or romantic), filial (brotherly or family) and Agape (spiritual) are the 3 I recall. This sermon came at a time in my life where I was struggling with loving properly and loving the right things. Loving has never been easy for me so this classification was a great help to me deal with my understanding. For some people loving is a very easy thing to so and it is a natural reflex. To someone like me it isn’t. I had to be taught. I thank God every day for my teacher and the fact that she is still my teacher today after 39 years of marriage. I continue to learn everyday.

John in this weeks reading (and Margot) teach that God is Love and they are inseparable. My other teacher is Forrest Gump. When this ”simple” man says to Jenny “ I am not a smart man, but I know what love is” I believed him and my eyes fill with tears. This movie is really all about love.

LOVE teachers surround us all. We just have to be watching, listening and learning.

John Dickie

Monday, February 20, 2006

1 John 3:18-4:6

Writing in broad but profound strokes in this section of his letter – in keeping with his style and emphases throughout – John highlighted three issues which face followers of Jesus. He pointed to the challenge of consistency in belief and practice. He warned of false teachings and beliefs about God, Jesus, and spirituality. He distinguished two fundamental points of view about truth and goodness.

In terms of belief and practice, John urged followers of Jesus, as individuals and as communities, to live their love for others in specific, concrete ways, not just in the emptiness of words. The world is full of easy promises and assertions of love, many of which go unfulfilled. True love for others arises from Jesus’ sacrificial love and bodies forth in small and large acts.

As for teachings and beliefs, John counseled followers of Jesus to assess the swirl of “spiritualities” around them against the life and teaching of the historical Jesus (recorded in narratives and sayings we now have as the four gospels of our New Testament). The world is full of spiritualities which make light of, ignore, or deny God’s Word incarnate. True spirituality affirms and expresses the life and teaching of Jesus, who lived in the flesh and who continues to live in risen glory.

With respect to world views, John contrasted two sharply different perspectives for understanding and living life. One stems from the Spirit of God; it leads to truth, goodness, and life. The other comes from the spirit of the world; it yields falsehood, evil, and death. The world is full of easy compromises and appearances of compatibility among world views. Yet the Spirit of God and the spirit of the world are essentially not compatible, not in origin and not in end. True faith and discipleship live in, from, and for the Spirit of God.

For all his clear and even stark contrasts and challenges, John wrote not to discourage and tear down, but to encourage and foster maturity and integrity of faith. His tender addresses – dear children, dear friends – attest to his motives and to God’s loving, nurturing purposes for us. Even more, John’s affirmations that God is greater – greater than our inconsistencies and failures, greater than false spiritualities, greater than the spirit of the world – provide deep and durable encouragement in our hearts and lives. We can, in God’s Spirit, grow more loving, more true, and more whole – in sum, grow more like Jesus.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, February 19, 2006

2 Corinthians 5:11-21

Most every night, I read my 9-year-old son a chapter or two from a book. Currently, we’re reading a children’s version of The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. This is a famous allegory that uses the story of Christian and his journey to the Celestial City to describe a believer’s walk of faith.

In one of the recent chapters, Christian met another man, Ignorance, on the road to the Celestial City. In Bunyan’s story, Ignorance thought he would be accepted in the Celestial City if he led a good life and accomplished good acts. If his good deeds and his good thoughts balanced out his bad actions and bad thoughts, he would be reconciled “to the good” and allowed into the city. Christian talked with much love to Ignorance, telling him of true faith in Christ, but Ignorance refused to embrace the Gospel, preferring to adhere to his own belief and walk a separate path.

This short vignette clearly portrays the “ministry of reconciliation” that today’s reading describes. Christian HAD to share the good news that he knew. He wanted Ignorance to know the grace of Christ and join him in the true journey to the Celestial City.

I often think of reconciliation much like Ignorance did, in terms of bringing things into balance – like reconciling a checkbook, but the word used by Paul here in Corinthians has a much deeper meaning. It speaks of exchange: God through His grace and love in Christ invites us to be justified in His sight through Christ.

The ministry of reconciliation is a two-step process. The first step is our choice to accept the invitation of Christ; the second step is joining in the reconciliation ministry by sharing the good news with others.

There are many ways to share the good news of Christ. For Christian, in The Pilgrim’s Progress, it was in a natural conversation while on a walk with a companion. I like that picture of sharing Christ as a natural part of life. I try to follow that model – that’s one reason I like to read stories to my son at night. The stories we read give us a natural opportunity to talk about God and things of faith.

How can you take part in the ministry of reconciliation?

Alan Davenport

Friday, February 17, 2006

1 John 3:1-10

John is really trying to make a point here. Yet, it is a simple one: You cannot be a child of God if you keep on sinning. To be a child of God is the penultimate love. But, we are children of God by way of gift, not by what we are, or by what we have done. It is only through the life and death of Jesus Christ that we are children of God. However, someone who continues to sin is, according to John, definitionally a child of the devil.

Is John’s point really all that simple? Do you ever have times when you think “I’m a good person. I go to church. I read my bible. I am a child of God”; but then, you are tested. You are not charged for a certain item in your grocery cart and you don’t realize it until you are home and you don’t take it back. Or, your credit card payment was in fact late but you call the company and talk them out of assessing the late charge. Or, you run a red light. Or your child has a heavy class load, is in after school athletics, active in Church and you get after him for getting a B on a test. Are these sins? If we do any of these things, are we then not children of God? Is there such a thing as a sinless human being? Are you still a child of God if you are 98% sinless? How about 76% sinless?

Sin is defined in Webster’s dictionary as “Transgression of a religious or moral law; an estrangement from God as a result of breaking God’s law; an offense, violation, fault or error”. Jesus said to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. Then to love your neighbor as yourselves. These are the laws. So, if in your action, you either fail to love God, or you fail to love your neighbor as yourself, you have indeed sinned. There are no increments. A 1% sin is the same as a 100% sin. But the good news is that we can be renewed by having a contrite heart. Next time you are at the grocery store, pay for the item you took home. Pay the late fee for the credit card anyway. Tell your child you are sorry and support them in what they are trying to do. Don’t run that red light next time.

See. It really is pretty simple, isn’t it?

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, February 16, 2006

1 John 2:18-29

One of these pictures is of a Monarch butterfly. The other is a Viceroy. Do you know which is which?

The one on the left is the Monarch. The Viceroy is a mimic--a "counterfeit Monarch" if you will.

Monarch butterflies are poisonous, so birds will not eat them. A Viceroy is not poisonous and would make a bird a tasty snack. So, if it is to survive, it must look enough like a monarch to be mistaken for one.

In our reading today we hear of “antichrists”, which could be translated as “counterfeit Christs”. Much like the Viceroy, a counterfeit Christ looks an awful lot like the original.

So how do we tell them apart? Much like one might distinguish between a Monarch and a Viceroy. Learn the original well. If you really know what a Monarch looks like, you will never mistake a Viceroy for the original.

John writes, Stay with what you heard from the beginning, the original message. Let it sink into your life. If what you heard from the beginning lives deeply in you, you will live deeply in both Son and Father. 25This is exactly what Christ promised: eternal life, real life!

And what is the original message? It is that the man Jesus really is the Christ, the anointed one of God to show us both what God really looks like and what God is really doing in the world. We are, therefore, to live deeply in what we were taught; that is, we are to live deeply in Christ.

Clearly there are plenty of counterfeit Christs in our day just as there were in John’s; false teachers who proclaim a Gospel different from the original which they (and we) have heard. Will be able to tell the difference?

Only if we are steeped deeply in the Scriptures and the life of prayer in which we come to deeply (not casually or superficially or intermittently) know our Lord.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

1 John 2:12-17

Today's reading is special to me, especially 1 John 2:15-17. If you have not read these three versus, or if you are not familiar with them, please read them now.

At first glance 1 John 2:15 may seem like a contradiction. As we all know, Jesus tells us that the two great commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor. Now here in 1 John 2:15 we see, "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." But how can we love God and our neighbors and not the world? Aren't our neighbors in the world?

The Greek word for world, in this case, is kosmos, which refers to the attitudes and values that disregard God or are blatantly against God. It does not mean, or refer to, God's natural creation or humanity. In other words, this message is consistent with Jesus' teachings - we are to love the people of the world but not the sinful attitudes and values those same people may embrace.

The last verse of today's reading is extremely powerful. If any of us truly believes that there is an opportunity to live forever, for all eternity, in the presence of God, in a place with a peace beyond our understanding, then all of us would do anything to fulfill verse 17, "The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever."

Many of us recently saw a documentary on Jim Elliot and the movie about his missionary work call, "End of The Spear". A quote of Jim Elliot's sticks with me and I feel is appropriate to today's reading. "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to get what he cannot lose."

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

1 John 2:1-11

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

Greetings dear reader. Today’s reading contains very familiar words we repeat every Sunday as part of our Service. These are powerful words worth repeating at least on a weekly basis. John clearly establishes Christ as our advocate with the Father and that he is the expiation for our sins. Sound familiar? Yes, I thought so. He starts by addressing us as “My little children”. He places himself in the role as teacher and “parent” and one who cares very deeply about us.

Like most loving parents, he urges us not to sin. However, he knows that we will. As parents we have the dual role to teach what to do and what not to do and to protect us from the consequences when we do not obey. We are not perfect. We are born not perfect and “there is no health in us”. Our lack of perfection and our continued failure to do what we know is right often leads to quilt and shame leading to unhappiness. When I have experienced depression in my life, it is when I over focus on me and my weakness.

John says not to worry. It is OK. Jesus paid the price for my sin and I am OK. And further more, Christ died for everyone, not just me. What is my payment? - To “keep his word” and follow him. John, speaking to Jews and Gentiles reminds us that this is not a new Commandment but brings new meaning and power to an old one. Not only does Christ’s sacrifice make us OK but takes us from darkness to light. My periods of depression were very much like being in the dark. The sense of fumbling, running into things, having to feel my way and always with the fear of impending harm in front of me. Knowing the love of God and experiencing a personal relationship with Christ lifts the blinds and lets God’s light into my life. This light comes from the people around me. To love my brother is to allow God’s light to shine on me. But I have to be open to my brother to allow this to happen. May God help me to do this more and more.


John Dickie

Monday, February 13, 2006

1 John 1:1-10

About fifty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, an aging John, beloved disciple and apostle, distilled key truths about God, Jesus, and authentic Christian life in this short letter, circulated among churches in the Roman province of Asia (now modern Turkey). The distillation occurred over a long life of devotion and service to Jesus. In this letter, it resulted in strong, bold strokes of truth and exhortation contrasting right and wrong belief and behavior.

Why did John write this letter? Some people in those churches believed, taught, and lived serious errors. They held that the material world was intrinsically evil, while the spiritual world was good. They denied the incarnation – that the Word of God had come in the flesh. The Word had come in spirit. At most, the Word appeared to come in the flesh in Jesus. This denigration of the material world extended to the physical aspects of human existence. Ironically, for some it meant that what they did in the flesh did not matter. A person could behave without regard for God’s moral direction. Only the interior, spiritual disposition of a person really mattered. John wrote, firmly but lovingly, to counter those errors and call people back to right belief and behavior.

Thus we understand John’s opening moves in this letter. First, he proclaimed the truth of the incarnation. John affirmed that he, along with others, had heard, seen, and touched the Word of God in the person of Jesus. The incarnation was real and good! Second, he emphasized the chasm between light and darkness, between behavior consistent with light and behavior consistent with darkness. God is light; there is no darkness in God. A life spiritually aligned with God bodies forth in the light, not in the dark. To deny the incarnation and to live in darkness will impair, and even negate, our fellowship with God.

These are strong, bold strokes which contrast beliefs and practices! On one side of the chasm are light and life. On the other side are darkness and death. John spoke truly, but it sounds so fearsome. I gladly walk in light in many ways, but I also walk in darkness at times. John knew this. In hearing, seeing, and touching Jesus, John realized his own darkness. Yet John also realized that Jesus forgives, cleanses, and transforms us when we confess our darkness. Let us then confess our darkness, for therein we have fellowship with God through Jesus, with light and joy abounding in heaven and on earth!

Gregory Strong

Sunday, February 12, 2006

1 Timothy 3:14-4:10

Don't you love it when a plan comes together?
Then that wonderful feeling of accomplishment that comes over you when what you have planned has been accomplished?

I've just completed a very significant activity (installing a new version of a computer system). The last 5 months have been almost solely devoted to planning and testing how our 20 person install team was going to accomplish our assigned task. We felt as if we were being asked to fit 10 gallons of water in a 1 gallon bucket and we could only have 1 bucket!

Yesterday was a MAJOR day in our plan. We had been given a 10 hour window in which our current system could be shut down, upgraded, and then the new version started again. I won't say that we were surprised but we were EXTREMELY excited when we were able to release the upgraded system back to operations after only 9 hours.

In today's reading, Paul writes to Timothy about planning and preparation:
"I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God..." (1 Tim 3:14)

Much like I had a very specific goal in my assignment at work, Paul had a very specific goal for Timothy (and us) in his direction:
"Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." (1 Tim 4:8)

What a wonderful feeling of accomplishment it will be, when at the end of our life, we can hear our Lord say: "Well done good and faithful servant. Come, enter into my rest".

Let's heed the words today's reading, and plan for that day.

Alan Davenport

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Romans 14:1-23

Paul wrote his letter to the Romans at a time when the controversial topics of the day included whether to eat or to abstain from eating certain foods and whether or not a special day should be set aside as holy. Paul’s message in this section of his letter was that what is done in the name of God is trivial compared to having good relationships with others and in our relationship with God. He also urges us not to trivialize or criticize the sincere actions or beliefs of others.

When I was in the fourth grade, in Catholic school, we were preparing for a visit from the bishop. Sister Magdaline told us to make sure our uniforms were clean and pressed, our hair combed, our faces washed, and our shoes shined. The morning of the visit, she carefully inspected each of us. When she came to a boy named Paul (really), she frowned. There were mud stains on his creased pants. He said his mother had washed them twice, but that the stains just wouldn’t come off. (Paul’s family was very poor. Also, his mother was sick, and she had to wash their clothes by hand.) Sister Magdaline sent him home.

I don’t remember the bishop’s visit that day. I do remember the look on Paul’s face as he lowered his head and quickly left the room. How could something as trivial as a stain overshadow the importance of being kind to a child and reinforcing his faith, and that of his classmates, by allowing him to stay for the bishop’s visit?

While this example appears to be about trivializing or criticizing the actions or beliefs of others, it actually shows how easily things that are ultimately trivial can blur our focus on God and on our neighbor.

Is there something trivial (often not apparent) in our lives that blurs our Christian vision? For example, do we allow work (we can all be replaced) to overshadow the importance of having dinner regularly with our family? Do we allow sleep to overshadow the importance of worship and fellowship at church on Sunday morning? Do we let American Idol or Survivor overshadow the importance of, well, anything else?

Dear Lord, we pray for clear vision in our daily lives, that we may respect and love each other as You have taught us. May we remember that, "If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong." (The Message, v. 23). Amen.

Martha Olson

Friday, February 10, 2006

Romans 13:1-14

In this passage Paul admonishes his readers to "wake up." The author of the paraphrase The Message puts it this way; "don't get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God" (v. 11).

When stated this way, this jumped out at me. Paul inserts a list of sins to avoid, which I tend to skim over, thinking I wouldn't even know how to do some of those sins. (I could manage dissension and jealousy most easily, and I am fooling myself if I think I couldn't figure out the others). However, Jesus knows that we humans tend to doze off from exhaustion.

Jesus preaches about our "drowsiness" in the parable of the sower in Luke 8. The "seed," which is the good news of the kingdom, is planted, but some people are choked by "the cares and riches and pleasures of life" (v.14). We have so many blessings in this life that it's possible to be overrun by them, like a garden with weeds.

However, one thing I am thankful for is the chance I have to first of all, listen to God when I feel "overrun," and secondly to find time for God to refresh my spirit.
For me this refreshment comes most easily by being outdoors. Since I work indoors being outdoors brings me directly to the presence of God. Perhaps I just feel thankful to be able to hear the sounds of birds and water. Mental weed-whacking is what it feels like, and that choked feeling disappears.

Paul also sums up the Law by saying, you have a huge debt to love each other (v. 8). A debt is an obligation, and while I don't feel like people should have a debt to love me, I am so thankful for the love of friends and family.

Peace to you, my family.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Romans 12:9-21

I am probably going to be in deep water with my colleagues who are also writing daily devotionals. Boy did I get an easy one today! No obscure images, no tough issues, no questions in regard to what the writer is talking about. For the record, I am duly grateful!

But if this passage is easy to understand and write about, it is equally hard to live. I do not know that there is one line in this whole passage that, as good as it sounds and as right as I know it is, would not give me trouble in faithfully and consistently putting it into practice across the board.

Take the very first sentence, for instance. We are to let love be sincere (or genuine) by hating what is evil and clinging fast to what is good. That is probably well worth memorizing and plastering on our bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, the dash of our car, in our office. It is well worth committing to prayer and whole heartedly pursuing as a goal.

But the sad truth is…standing firm against evil and resolutely holding fast to what is good is a huge challenge. Evil, in its less blatant forms, can be so alluring and inviting. Being good—little goodie two shoes—in a culture that would rather take things more casually—can be exceptionally difficult. Sadder still, that means that far too often my love will be compromised and self serving.

So there it is. You probably don’t need my help in the slightest to understand perfectly well what is written here. But my guess is, we all need God’s help—and lots of it—to live it!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Romans 12:1-8

In Romans 1 - 11 Paul gives us the basic framework on which a Christian understanding of sin, salvation, and sanctification is based. It was the most thorough and systematic presentation of Christian truth up to that time and many would say since that time as well.

Beginning in chapter 12, Paul turns his attention to the implications of the truth he has just presented. In other words, in light of what God has done, this is the way we should live.

Verse 12:1 is one of the most important verses is the Bible. "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God -- this is your spiritual act of worship." This verse contains, perhaps, more key theological truths for its size than perhaps any other. God wants us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices which means to put aside our own desires so we can follow Him. As gratitude that our sins have been forgiven, we should put our whole heart and mind into accomplishing His will and forego our own.

In verses 4 - 8, Paul tells us about the means, or gifts, God has given each of us to accomplish His will. To use these gifts effectively we must:
+ realize that all abilities come from God
+ understand that not everyone has the same gifts
+ know what we do best (i.e., what gifts we have been given)
+ dedicate our gifts to God's service
+ be willing to use our gifts to their utmost - not hold anything back from God's service

Finally, and this is a lesson I again was taught this week, all of us must realize, especially me, that our gifts cannot do the work of the church alone. Everyone's gifts are needed. We should praise God for people with gifts that are completely different from our own and be grateful that the abilities of others can make up for our deficiencies.

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

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Hebrews 13:17-25

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

Yes, I am still on the road. Communicating with you each week is such good medicine. As Fr. Rob talked about in his sermon this week, writing this devotional each week recharges my spiritual battery. I also find that if my spiritual battery is charged, so is my physical battery.

This Tuesday, Paul continues to offer very practical advice to assist his Hebrew readers to see a new life in Jesus. He starts by telling them to obey their leaders. What leaders is he referring to? One must assume they are the community leaders or religious leaders. He gives them credit as being people who “keep watching over our souls, ---and men who will have to give account.”

I have many leaders as I am sure you do as well. We have church leaders, political leaders, teachers, and bosses in our jobs, celebrities we admire, and let’s not forget our Parents who are the most influential leaders of all. We look to them for guidance and direction and to set priorities. All those things taught in Management training seminars on leadership. But are they all interested in “watching over our souls” and will they be accountable for our souls? Not all for sure. Very few actually.

Paul does not suggesting that we should question or challenge our leadership. He suggests we submit to it and have “faith” that the leaders will be accountable for our souls. He urges his Hebrew readers to support his leadership and also Timothy who has just been released from prison. He indicates that he and Timothy will soon visit with them and provide leadership.

When I think about the many bosses I have had in my career and identify what separates the good from the not so good, it is this very issue of caring about the welfare of the individual and not just what they produce. Gandhi cared about all his followers individually and there were millions. Hitler and Stalin do not share this reputation. There is one great leader whose very life was dedicated to leading and that is Jesus Christ. He cared enough to sacrifice himself for us. This is the leader I will obey without question.


John Dickie

Monday, February 06, 2006

Hebrews 13:1-16

We come to the closing chapter of this treatise written to instruct and encourage Jewish Christians about Jesus and faith in Jesus. Here the author sums up his major themes and aims elaborated in previous chapters. Thus we find – and do well to read and re-read, to ponder and take to heart – these pithy statements of belief and exhortations to action. As we read and take to heart, we should note two fundamental principles threading through Hebrews and these final remarks.

One principle concerns the vital connections between worship, belief, and practice. Compare verses 1, 9, and 15. Verse 1 speaks to right practice. Verse 9 addresses right belief. Verse 15 deals with right worship. These verses exemplify how the author intermingles the importance of worship, belief, and practice. They intrinsically connect with each other. We must not separate our worship, belief, and practice. We must not think the Christian life consists in one or the other, or in one or two more than another. They reflect and reinforce each other in the life of faith. Right worship, belief, and practice weave a seamless cloth of true and mature faith. We should seek to grow in each, and in all together, to grow in faithfulness to Jesus.

The other principle, perhaps less obvious, concerns the marginal character of Jesus’ life, and hence the marginal character of faithful life in Jesus. Compare verses 11 through 13. I do not mean “marginal” in the sense of unimportant. I mean it in the sense of outside the mainstream of what the world or culture deems valuable and desirable. Jesus died outside the city, outside the walls enclosing Jerusalem, the center of religious and national life in Israel. This, along with the manner of his death, disgraced him. It represented repudiation of him by the centers of power, authority, and respectability in the world. We, his followers, can expect no other than Jesus received. We must not seek “the center of the city,” else we turn our back on Jesus.

Yet we have, as this author writes, great encouragement. The city of this world is fragile and temporary, however much the city and its residents pretend to be strong and permanent. We are only resident aliens in this worldly city. We are moving to live in a new city, founded on Calvary, built to last on the rock of an empty tomb, where worship, belief, and practice dwell together in perfect and endless glory.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, February 05, 2006

2 Timothy 2:14-21

This week as I was driving home from work, I heard a recently released recording of a pregame speech that Vince Lombardi gave to the Green Bay Packers prior to one of their Super Bowl appearances. It was very short, not even two minutes in length. He didn’t yell or use emotional appeals. He spoke to his team about remembering how hard they had worked. He reminded them of the significance of their past and current accomplishments, and he praised them for their skill and abilities. Finally, he encouraged them, saying if they would execute what they had been taught and stay entirely focused on the task at hand, they would finish the game as winners.

Many of the players on that team had been with Coach Lombardi for several years. He didn’t tell them anything they didn’t already know and in some cases he used words that he had said to them before. I could tell from the recording though, that the words of Coach Lombardi resonated with the team. I expect that because of the investment they had made in each other, the players heard meanings in Coach Lombardi’s words that were never spoken.

Paul could be considered Timothy’s coach, and in today’s reading, Paul seems to be giving Timothy a pregame speech of sorts:
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene. … The Lord knows those who are his … Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness. … All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.“

As we watch the Super Bowl tonight and see the teams striving to win the “Lombardi Trophy” as the Super Bowl champs, we can remember the words of Paul to Timothy. We can use those words to help us be champions in our daily walk of faith.

Alan Davenport

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Hebrews 12:12-29

The (still nameless) epistler to the Hebrews exhorts, in fact sometimes seems to plead with the church members who will read this letter: get your collective act together. There are some in the group who are lagging behind in the march, complaining perhaps that they need to rest their weary legs. They need to pro-actively do whatever needs to be done to get themselves into shape for completing their walk.

Many of us have reached a season of life where wear and tear on the joints has made it painful to stand, let alone walk. But we’ve got miles to go before our journey and our work are complete. So we (as my wife did last week) have an orthopedist “scope” the knee, cutting out the damaged cartilage that is flapping around and causing so much pain. The surgery and its aftermath are themselves arduous and pain lingers for weeks, but if we’re in this for the long haul, we trust that God (and time) will heal, and get us back on the path, walking.

We are, as the Hebrews were, all in this together. Especially in the last year we have seen glimpses of what we could become--foretastes of the heavenly feast that should provide ample motivation to keep walking. But encouraged as we are by the prospect of continuing to advance toward the prize of our calling, we must heed the writer’s exhortations to pursue (and balance) peace and holiness. We should note the warning to guard against allowing bitterness to take root in the midst of what ought to be love. And we must not confuse the false indulgence of the glutton with the true banquet that awaits us as our birthright. Bad choices (of individuals as well as groups) may have irrevocable consequences, as Esau’s example shows.

At the end of the trail there’s a “whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.” The shaking is a mere prelude to God’s consuming fire, which no created tangible thing will survive—but the Kingdom will. That’s why we’re going to keep on walking, straight onward and (post-surgery) without a limp.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Hebrews 12:3-11

Parental Discipline. I think about this topic as both the recipient (way back when) and the giver. But, I am struck in this passage about the distinction between earthly discipline and heavenly discipline. It seems that parents in this day and age are almost embarrassed to admit they discipline their children. For sure, the current societal mood is extremely intolerant of abuse, as it should be; but, some argue that our definition of abuse has created a blur between discipline which is needed and discipline which is actually abusive. Parents are almost afraid to discipline their children for fear of societal backlash. Consequently, I fear that we are raising a generation of children for whom behavioral boundaries are muddled at best.

But, with God, the boundaries are not blurred. His discipline is divine and it is only through this discipline that we may “share his holiness” as Paul says in verse 10. I wonder how different our society would be if parents were capable of “divine discipline”, which definitionally could never be abusive. It flows from the purest of all loves, which we as humans are not perhaps capable of here on earth but should strive for nonetheless.

Another lesson from this passage is that discipline and love breed respect. I think of kids who interrupt their parents, or mouth-off to them. To me this is a lack of respect for the parent as well as for themselves. But, so many parents allow that type of behavior to continue. If the parents do not teach the children how to be respectful, who will? According to Paul, if you do not discipline your children, those children are illegitimate, i.e. not your children. Indeed, discipline is a sign of love and acceptance by the parent of that child.

Lord, help me to be your child, disciplined in love, and help me strive to be a parent modeled by you, quick to provide my children with loving discipline and guidance as you give to all of your children.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Hebrews 11:32-12:2

Alan Davenport began this week asking if you ever feel out of step with others. That same theme is picked up again in the remaining verses of Hebrews 11. Because of their faith, the people listed here were all “out of step”; they found themselves at odds with the powers of this world, unable to accept the status quo, not satisfied with a life that looked like the life of everyone around them.

Try this as an image; perhaps it will work for your, perhaps it won’t. I once read a book that spoke of well kept lawns as “sacraments of our suburban sameness”. The people listed here were people who didn’t keep their lawns.

Clearly, the call in these verses is for us to be willing to be “out of step” as well. That shouldn’t surprise us. The church is literally meant to be those who are “called out”; called, as the KJV translated 1 Peter 2:9, to be a peculiar people. Are we willing to leave our lawns unkept?

But if we, like the people in Hebrews 11, are called to be “out of step” with the world around us, we are called to be in step with the people we find in Hebrews 12: the great cloud of witnesses—and, in fact, Jesus himself.

How do we do that? By casting aside every weight (sin) that would hold us back and slow us down. What might that be? What’s holding us back from serving God like we wish we could, like we know we should? What’s slowing us down from making the spiritual progress we long to make?

Then we are to run with perseverance the race set before us. To run this race well is to run for the long haul. It’s easy to start something well; the real question is how we’ll finish.

So how is our Christian walk doing? Is our passion fading? Has our enthusiasm lessened? Is our joy in the running diminished? Do we need to catch our second wind?

And finally, we are to look to Jesus and his example. Where we look is where we go. That’s why we tell people, for instance, to “keep your eyes on the road”.

It is no different with our faith. Where we look is where we go. Look at the world—catalogs, various web sites, the neighbor’s stuff, movies, magazine’s, TV shows—and consciously or unconsciously, we’ll end up looking just like the world around us, just like our neighbors, just like the people in the media.

But keep our eyes on Jesus, and we’ll find ourselves becoming more and more like Him.

Which brings us to the final question: Where are our eyes fixed?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Hebrews 11:23-31

In our reading today, Paul uses Moses as inspiration for the Hebrew Christians to whom he is writing this letter. One verse in today's reading is of particular interest to me. It is verse 26, "He (Moses) regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward."

Two items strike my fancy from verse 26. The first is, "for the sake of Christ". Certainly Moses lived long before Jesus came to earth, thus what do these words mean? Perhaps they mean that when Moses suffered, he suffered with the same Christ whom Paul urged his readers to identify. We do not know how much Moses understood about Christ - we do know that Paul was asking the Hebrew Christians, and us, to identify with the attitudes and experiences of Moses.

The second item is, "looking ahead to his reward." Moses, being raised by Pharaoh's daughter, decided to leave Pharaoh's court and live with his own people. Can you imagine how others must have looked at this decision? Surely Moses' palace friends must have regarded his choice as stupid. However, Moses was looking beyond the short time, in comparison to all eternity, each of us spends in this life and looking towards his time in heaven. Moses knew that spiritual treasurers would last while material advantages and prestige are temporary at best. It is easy to be deceived by the temporary benefits of wealth, popularity, status, and achievement, and to be blind to the long-range benefits of God's kingdom. Faith helps us look beyond this world's value system to see the external values of God's kingdom.

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