Sunday, April 30, 2006

I John 2:7-17

When I was about 15 years old, I spent a summer working with my Grampa. He was retired, but he ran 30-50 head of cattle on a small piece of land in southeast Kansas. It kept him busy and out of Gramma's hair. I helped Grampa mow the hay, lay-in a new fence, doctor the cattle, and do some painting.

Most every morning, Grampa would stop in on the square of their little town at the local coffee shop. 6-10 other retired men made that a regular stop as well. It was pretty fascinating for me as a young teenager to hear the opinions and recollections of men 50-70 years my senior. Mostly they talked politics, shared town gossip, or told stories.

As I read these words from I John, I could almost see my Grampa and his friends drinking coffee around their tables: "Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. " (I John 2:7)

I remember my Grampa and his friends saying some of the same things that my parents had said, but somehow their stories, their perspective, or my new circumstances caused my ears to hear the message a little more clearly. That summer I heard old messages - ones that I had heard countless times before, but they became "new" for me.

Take a few moments and read again the words from today's reading. Perhaps the old message there will become new for you.

Alan Davenport

Saturday, April 29, 2006

1 Peter 4:7-19

The end of all things is near... how many times in the last 2000 years have people, and especially Christians, thought (or written/spoken) those words? If you put those words on a banner, or maybe in your blog, you expose yourself to mockery. However, in this country of nominally free speech, persecution is not something we experience the way Peter experienced it.

For those of us living and worshipping comfortably here in the U.S., persecution seems very far away in space and time. Until you start Googling.

This week (4/22 - 30) is North Korea Freedom Week, focusing on arguably the worst persecuting regime in the world. About 200,000 Christians are currently in labor camps there, experiencing torture and worse. One estimate posits a figure of over 2 million deaths in the past 10 years resulting from that persecution.

Other parts of the world are troubled as well, to quote some recent headlines:
Pakistani Christians Given Homes, Jobs if They Convert to Islam
The Emergence of a 'Coptic Question' in Egypt
Martyrs' Children Suffer as Indonesia's Anti-Christian Persecution ...
US Lawmaker Says China Returns North Korean Asylum Seekers
Persecuted Karen and Karenni Christians of Burma
Abuse of Chinese Christians persists as Hu Jintao visits ...

The list goes on and on.

What do we therefore do? Just as Peter says,
Be serious.
Discipline ourselves for the sake of prayer.
Maintain constant love.
Be hospitable.
Don't complain.
Serve one another with our gifts.
Speak the word of God.
Glorify God whatever happens from our giving or speaking.

And don't be surprised. Remember, love wins.

Friday, April 28, 2006

1 Peter 3:13-4:6

This passage is one of those which offers the ultimate hope for Christians - Never fear; even if you suffer, you are blessed. There is nothing in our human life that could give us this kind of hope. Any kind of hope that could be derived on earth is based on reliance upon mankind or something man made and, therefore, definitionally could never hold a candle to the hope that is offered through faith in the Lord. Yet, as Christians, we are taught to love each other, even if someone could never be totally relied upon, or put another way could ever meet your expectations. We are supposed to have faith in each other, believe in the best, if you will. This is a real conundrum. On the one hand, since Christ alone can provide blessing through suffering, why should Christians ever rely on people to help us get through the day?

God never intended for man to be alone on earth. We know that from Genesis and from God's instruction to love our neighbor as ourself. I don't believe that God meant love others as much as you love yourself. Some of us don't love ourselves very much. Throughout the Bible, we are instructed how to act as Christians. In 1 Peter 3:15, we are told to answer people who ask why we have hope and faith and we are suppled to answer them with respect and gentleness. In other words, we are supposed to love ourselves and everyone else as children of God, as God loves us. And just as God has hope in us that we will follow His commandments and listen to Him and walk with Him, so are we to have hope and joy in the foibles of mankind while knowing that our ultimate resting place with the Father in Heaven is only acheivable through our faith in God and in the arisen Lord.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

1 Peter 2:11-25

Several years ago at St. Matthew’s we introduced the phrase “And then some,” saying that is the kind of church we want to be—not a church that does the bare minimum, but a church that goes above and beyond. We want to be a church that does not only what is required or expected, but what is required or expected and then some. That phrase has helped define who we are in expressing the “St. Matthew’s spirit.”

Lately I’ve been thinking of another phrase that I’d like to see enter our collective consciousness and shape who we are. It comes from the words of Mother Theresa; “Small acts done with great love change the world.”

This is precisely what Peter is saying here: Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge, he writes. Jesus, of course, taught something very similar. He said, Let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Peter goes on to list ways to do this, such as by being good citizens, or those who benefit the community and society around them. Honor others. Love well. Respect authority. It’s simple stuff, really—but harder to practice.

What does it look like to give back to our communities? How might we actively serve our neighbors? What “good deeds,” or small acts of kindness, are we doing, day in and day out? These are the kind of questions that Peter asks us to consider.

And not just to consider, but to answer.

And not just to answer, but to do.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

1 Peter 2:1-10

Peter makes several strong points throughout today's reading. I want to spend this time discussing two areas of the reading - the first two verses and the last two verses - as these versus convey a strong and crystal clear message to me.

In the first two verses Peter discusses one characteristic all children share. They want to grow up - to be like big brother or sister or like their parents. When we first accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are spiritual newborns. If we are healthy we will yearn to grow. All believers need to long for the spiritual nourishment of God's Word in order to spiritually grow and exhibit a different quality of life.

In verse one, Peter lists five sins of attitude and speech we must rid ourselves of for spiritual growth.
• Malice - an attitude like hatred, it includes holding grudges and acting out of these grudges against others.
• Deceit - deliberate dishonesty.
• Hypocrisy - acting in a way that conceals our true motives.
• Envy - desire to possess what belongs to someone else
• Slander - running down others verbally

Now I will shift the focus to the last two verses, Peter indicates that people should not base their self-worth on their accomplishments. As Christians we should realize that our relationship with Christ is far more important than our jobs, success, wealth, or knowledge. God has called us to be part of His church, to be priests that serve Him, and to make a valuable contribution. As we spiritually grow, our life focus will naturally shift from ourselves to doing and accomplishing God's will.

I enjoy reading these verses from 1 Peter. They always remind me that we are never too old to spiritually grow, and that I should not get too full of myself as my relationship with Christ is paramount to any earthly possession I might enjoy.

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

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

colossians 1:1-14

Daily Devotional – Tuesday April 25 2006
Colossians 1:1 - 14

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

I am sure that Jesus’ faithful followers were in great need of reassurance in the days following the events of Easter. It is hard to imagine how they would have felt. They had experienced the great joy and relief of the resurrection. But what about their guilt for their behavior before and during Christ’s trial and crucifixion? Christ’s visits to them in his heavenly state must have been a great relief for them in terms of dealing with their own emotions. We can only imagine how this reassurance gave them the strength to do the hard work that was in front of them.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians starts with a wonderful greeting. He acknowledged that he knew what they were doing and how wonderful it was. Don’t we all need this kind of reassurance? I know that I do. Being a faithful Christian was difficult and dangerous at that time. This kind of reassurance was necessary to keep the people of Colos’sae connected to the body of Christ. It was essential that they knew that Paul and others were praying for them. We all know the importance of encouraging the young through positive reinforcement of good behavior. I find I am not so good at this when dealing with older folks like myself. In some respects this reinforcement is equally important for us.

Why did Paul write this letter? What motivated it? There is really nothing new in it and he confirms what they already knew. I think he wanted them to know that he cared about them and cared enough to write and say so. We don’t write letters very often anymore, do we? It is a shame because letters can be a very personal way of saying that you care about someone. As Christians are we not called to care about each other? I think so.

As we were reminded on Sunday morning “many small acts of kindness (caring) can make a big difference. May God bless you this day and every day.


John Dickie, April 25, 2006

Monday, April 24, 2006

1 Peter 1:1-12

God created this world to be our home. God made it to fit us and us to fit within it. Yet our sinful rebellion against God undid all of that. The world no longer fits us, and we no longer fit within it.

To be sure, there are times and places, occasional and fragmentary, of true fittingness, of genuine experience of God’s original good creation. The world feels like home; we feel at home in it. Yet such experiences do not last. They do not fill the frame of our existence. In many ways, at the deepest levels, we intuit that things are terribly, unhappily awry. Life ought not to be this way. And we have no one to blame but ourselves.

In the midst of our self-induced plight, God, in great mercy, has acted to re-create the world and us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We praise God for his inestimable mercy! God makes creation new to fit us, and he makes us new to fit within it. This is the true definition of having a second home!

Still, between the first and second coming of Jesus, there is an “already but not yet” quality to new life in the post-Easter world. The old is already passing away, but not fully yet. The new is already surging and flowering, but not fully yet. Thus we understand Peter’s references in this letter to followers of Jesus as “strangers in this world,” suffering griefs and trials, while also experiencing inexpressible joy in the hope of Jesus’ resurrection and the inheritance to come.

Therefore, we who love and follow Jesus must live with a certain inescapable tension and paradox in this life of faith. Where the world continues to struggle in pre-Easter alienation from God, it is not our home, and we do not fit into it. Where the world enjoys post-Easter reconciliation and re-creation in God, it begins to rise as our new home. With almost inarticulate joy, we begin to experience God’s glorious new world. Still we are not ultimately home – not yet. That full, final home awaits us beyond this world in the new heaven and earth to come. Hence, we are strangers in this world, but strangers lovingly hosted and embraced toward home by a merciful God.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Romans 8:11-25

One of the key words in today’s reading is “life”. Paul begins the thoughts about life in the initial verse of the reading:
“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Romans 8:11)

What does Paul mean when he says the Spirit “will give life” to our mortal bodies? He can’t mean physical life – it has to be something more. Paul explains more fully what he means in the rest of the reading and after completing the reading, I began to contemplate the idea of the Spirit of God living in me and giving me life.

As I thought about this, I remembered learning to play baseball and specifically about learning to throw a baseball. I had countless games of catch with my dad and brother. There were lots of pick-up games, followed by years of Pee Wee and then Little League. I was just like countless other ball players, but then one day a coach said, “Wow, you’ve really got some zip on that ball.” Something in my throwing had changed. My pitches were lively and the ball moved when I threw it. No longer was I just throwing a baseball, I had zip on my throws. I had moved from throwing a baseball to THROWING a baseball.

Remembering my baseball days gave a picture of the idea that Paul is trying to communicate. We all have a physical life, but the Spirit of God in us can move us from just living to truly living LIFE. I was reminded again to let the Spirit of him who raised Christ from the dead live in and through me, giving life (true, revitalized, abundant life) to my mortal body through his Spirit.

Let’s walk in that life together.

Alan Davenport

Saturday, April 22, 2006

2 Corinthians 4:16 - 5:10

I encourage you to read this vivid passage. It is rich with contrasts (transitory vs. permanent; temporary vs. eternal), great phrases (“...we groan under our that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” ) and metaphor (our bodies as earthly tents).

Paul’s metaphor of our bodies as earthly tents reminds me of the first (and only) time I went camping. Naturally, everything went wrong. The tent was much smaller than we thought it was. We couldn’t open the container which had the fuel to cook our food. It rained all night. Our tent fell on us. It was a thoroughly cold, wet, and miserable experience. I couldn’t wait to get home.

All of us know what it’s like to want to go home. Whether it’s from a disastrous camping trip or a successful mission trip or simply the end of a long day at work, we yearn for, desire, longingly anticipate our items of comfort, familiar surroundings, our private places for solitude and renewal. We just want to go home.

Of course, the tents that Paul writes about are our bodies here on earth, which will wear out over time. Paul tells us what to expect when that happens. He says that we can be at home with the Lord when we die. “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God...eternal in the heavens.” But that is not assured, for each of us will be judged for “...what has been done in the body...”

Paul longs to be at home with the Lord. To share Paul’s confidence and enthusiasm, and to successfully face judgment, we must build up our relationship with Christ. In a strong relationship with Christ, we will find comfort and hope and a renewal of our spirit. Christ will be familiar to us. He will be our home. Perhaps then, like Paul, we will wholeheartedly long to be "...away from the body and at home with the Lord."

Dear Lord, Paul’s words fill us with hope and a joyful expectation of eternal life with You. By Your grace, may we build up our relationship with You. And may Your grace guide us daily, so that our journey on earth will lead us to our eternal home in Heaven, with You. Amen.

Martha Olson

Thursday, April 20, 2006

1 Corinthians 15:41-50

Some time ago, I read an article that wrote of how much sadder people have become since pinning their hopes and dreams to this world. Once, of course, most people in the western world believed in Heaven, and knew that between Earth and Heaven, Earth was the poorer place of the two. So, though they enjoyed life in this world for what it is worth, they didn’t expect it to satisfy their deepest hopes and dreams and longings.

Somewhere along the line that has changed. Now people tend to see this world as their one shot at happiness. Unfortunately, this world was never made to bear that kind of weight.

When people find that although they have a beautiful home, the perfect family, top of the line cars, exciting careers, and even a travel log of exotic trips—but still aren’t completely happy and fulfilled, they wonder what is wrong. Many become anxious, frustrated, or depressed. Others push even harder into more destructive behaviors; addictions, affairs, even higher level consuming.

The specifics of what Paul is writing about today are perhaps hard to understand. But the point is not: there is a far better world coming.

Just what is this “spiritual body” that Paul says we will receive after the resurrection? Who can say for sure? But Paul gives us a series of contrasts, each of which is meant to show that the life we receive will be so much better than the life we now know. However pleasurable our present bodies may be, our new bodies will be all the more glorious, powerful, and free from corruption.

So…to put the majority of our time and energy into hopes and dreams bound to this world is the path of certain disappointment. There are many in our day who are surprised at this. As Christians, may we not be found among them.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

1 Corinthians 15:29-41

Paul makes two major points in today's reading. In the first part of the passage Paul points out that it would be meaningless to live as a Christian if we were not to be resurrected. Often in this passage Paul uses himself as an example. Paul makes it plain that he would never endure the trials he lists for merely human reasons. Instead he would have subscribed to the philosophy, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. Of course Paul is alluding to Isaiah 22:13 where the prophet rebuked his listeners for not taking the warnings of divine judgment seriously.

In the second part of today's reading Paul turns to some specific issues regarding the idea of a general resurrection. I like Paul's analogy of a seed. A seed must die before it comes to life. In other words, a seed must be buried as if it were dead before it grows into a plant or tree. The ability God gives a seed to overcome its burial should be reason enough for everyone to believe that human beings can be resurrected by God's will.

However, Paul is not finished with his seed analogy. When answering the question what kind of bodies will we have when we are resurrected, Paul again uses it. Paul points out that when people plant seeds they do not plant the body that will be - in other words a seed does not bear the shape and size of the full-grown plant. In fact a seed does not look anything like the plant it produces. Instead God gives it a body that He has chosen. Thus, Paul is saying that we in resurrection will have the types of bodies that God has chosen for us.

To conclude his point, Paul points out that God has given out many different types of bodies. The bodies of men, animals, birds, fish, heavenly bodies, earthly bodies, the sun, the moon, and the stars all differ from one another. God does not have any problem coming up with shapes, sizes, and textures for each item in His universe.

We should not worry about the questions Paul answers in today's reading. We do not have to come up with the answers as God already has.

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

1 peter 1:13 - 25

Daily Devotional – Tuesday April 18 2006
1 Peter 1:13 - 25

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

Dear reader, I am back and glad to be. Please accept my wish that God has blessed you this Easter in a very real way, that Jesus’ presence in you life is strengthened. This year provided the opportunity for me to concentrate and focus on the Passion and what it means to me. This doesn’t always happen. I can be easily distracted by conflicting priorities. Not this year. Sunday morning had an excitement I have missed in recent years. The powerful sermons on Friday night and Sunday morning together with the music and drama created a very real and uplifting experience.

I consider myself very fortunate to have access to St. Matthews and its wonderful people where Jesus’ presence can be experienced.

Peter challenges his readers to gird our minds, be sober and focus on Jesus and what he offers. I believe I did this during this past Easter and I was rewarded for it. Do you find that when you don’t focus and try to do too many things at once, that your stress level goes up? I do. Too much unfocussed activity breeds anxiety and stress. Stress caused by fear, often fear of the unknown. This influences our behavior and not for the good. When I am anxious and stressed I tend to protect myself and withdraw. This is not the person I am supposed to be.

Peter reminds us that we are to have confidence in God. It is Jesus who gives us that confidence. Our faith in the risen Lord and knowing that we have been purified is the basis of our confidence. The grace of God’s love allows us to relax and focus on him. Don’t we all want and need that feeling of calm and warmth that comes with focused prayer. The cares of today’s world are of no consequence when compared to the peace and rest we will find in the eternal city of Heaven.


John Dickie, April 18, 2006

Monday, April 17, 2006

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

We rise from the joy of Easter Sunday to the Monday after. What kind of day will it be? Monday can seem like a descent. In the world which most know, which popular culture reinforces, Monday, the first day of the work week, presses down like a large stone rolled over life. What kind of day will this Monday, the Monday after Easter, be?

Jesus did not die on a Friday – that Friday we know as Good Friday – to redeem Mondays for us and make us happy about them. Yet because he rose on a Sunday – that Sunday we know as Easter – Mondays can never be the same. The week can never be the same. Life can never be the same. On Good Friday the old days died. On Easter Sunday all days became new.

The question is whether – this Monday, this week, and the days which follow – we will live in the new days or not. If yes, how will we live in them?

The answer to both questions lies in death and resurrection. In Jesus’ once-for-all death and resurrection, our old self must die, and our new self rise. Our old days must die, and our new days begin. In these new days, by the power of the risen Jesus in-Spirited within us, we must make choices to give our self to God and to our neighbor in faith, hope, and love rather than mistrust, despair, and hate.

This connects with Paul’s affirmation of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15. As Paul reminded the Christians in Corinth, in and by this good news we are saved. Jesus died for us. Jesus rose for us. Not figuratively, but actually. Thus he made life new for us. Not figuratively, but actually. We stake life itself on this good news, or we have heard it in vain. Therefore, we must dwell decisively in these new days, in this new life, by letting our old self die and our new self rise in such truth, beauty, and goodness that we can only begin to imagine. Mondays should never be the same.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Exodus 12:1-14; Psalms 113, 114; John 1:1-18; Luke 24:13-35

Today’s Exodus reading is a prescription for commemorating the Passover as a “festival unto the Lord.” Clearly, this was a big deal – a time when life as usual came to a halt in order to celebrate properly God doing for Israel what they could not do for themselves. It was a time to remember God giving his people something unavailable to them in the world – namely, their freedom.

Easter is also meant to be a festival commemorating God’s action on behalf of his people. In the resurrection of Jesus we see the reward God promises all his children. This reward is not just a big promotion or more money or some fancy new toy. It’s a reward that transcends anything and everything we know in the natural world. It’s a supernatural reward, not available in any other way except by the grace and power of God.

And like Israel, our reward is also freedom – the freedom from sin and death which is made known in the alive and risen Jesus Christ. Ultimately this freedom means that we, too, will receive the gift of everlasting life. We, too, will come to live in the glorious, unbroken company of God.

That is what we celebrate at Easter – a gift of such immense magnitude that for this one day, at least, we let life as usual come to a halt. And in the joy of our worship, feasting, and fellowship, we remember just how great this gift is, this blessed expression of the enormity of God’s love for us. As John writes about Jesus:

16We all live off his generous bounty,

gift after gift after gift.

17We got the basics from Moses,

and then this exuberant giving and receiving,

This endless knowing and understanding –

all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.

18No one has ever seen God,

not so much as a glimpse.

This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,

who exists at the very heart of the Father,

has made him plain as day.

(John 1:16-18, The Message.)

Rob Merola

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Lamentations 3:37-58; Psalm 27; Hebrews 4:1-16;
Romans 8:1-11

Waiting – in our fast-paced culture of instant messaging, cell-phones, high speed internet connections, and digital photos we print ourselves – is not something we do well. We’ve grown accustomed to instant gratification. It is particularly difficult for fast-paced individuals (I can easily enter that mode) living in a fast-paced society. Your head aches when a red light stops you cold and you’re running late. Your blood pressure rises when a child presses all the buttons in the elevator and you need to get to the top floor. You lose your composure when you’re stuck in the middle of a slow-moving line for “fast food.”

So it’s good news when we read in Hebrews 4:1 that God is offering “the promise of entering his rest,” and that we don’t have to wait for it. It is yours and mine for the taking, and it can be ours today! To receive it, God only asks that we hear his word, believe his word, and live his word.

Hear God’s word. God talks to you and to me in many ways. Sometimes he whispers to you. Sometimes he talks to you through others. Always, however, his word is found in the Bible. And his word is powerful. It is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow....” (Hebrews 4:12.) Hearing God’s powerful word is the first step to receiving his rest today and everyday.

Believe God’s word. To receive God’s rest, to enjoy his peace in our daily hectic lives, we must hear his word, and we must have faith. With faith, we will remember God’s words of hope, even as we cringe at the horrific images of human suffering. With faith, we will remember God’s words of forgiveness, even as we learn of corruption and injustice. With faith, we will remember God’s words of healing, even as we live with personal pain. With faith, we will remember God’s words of love.

Live God’s word. To receive God’s rest, to know his peace, we must also live God’s word. We should try our best, every day, to love God through prayer and worship, and to love our neighbors through kindness and patience. God knows that we are weak. He understands that it is so easy for us to fall, and so he offers us strength through his grace.

Dear God, as we wait to celebrate the glorious resurrection of your Son, may we “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace....” May we hear your word, believe your word, and live your word each day. We pray that, today and every day, we may strive to attain the restful peace that you have promised, as we await the blessed peace of everlasting rest with you in heaven. Amen.

Martha Olson

Friday, April 14, 2006

Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-33; Psalm 22;
1 Peter 1:10-20; John 19:38-42

Imagine you have not got the Sunday News:

The journey ends today, at the top of the Skull.

Without mistake this is indeed the end,

Bitter, bitter with gall, and costly, costly for blood.

Beyond the sunset now is only fear,

A fear of being seen and known as “them” –

The party of the Galilean “king.”

No place is safe, no word passed in the dark

But may be heard, may lead to your own cross.

This is not how you dared to dream back home.

The end comes not in glory, but disgrace;

Not freedom, but again oppressor’s chains;

Not hope, but black, black, unrelieved despair.

And yet.

When darkness comes the candles shall be lit

To welcome in Shabbat, the weekly rest,

Not just Shabbat tonight, but Shabbat of the feast,

Pesach, a night unlike all other nights,

When lambs go to the slaughter, but freedom is won,

And the flight begins out of Egypt.

This is what you know, and all you have known:

God’s people never shall be left behind,

Alone, for dead, without the promised word.

But one man, one man only, has the means

And courage fit to save the master from

The common grave of thieves, and scraps for dogs.

Joseph dreamed of the kingdom, dreams even now

Of something – though he scarcely can know what.

But in the garden tomb the Shepherd lies

Whose sheep are scattered far throughout the night.

The garden waits, gives up its heat, and rests.

Matthew Brown

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Lamentations 2:10-18; Psalm 102;
1 Corinthians 10:14-17, 11:27-32; Mark 14:12-25

Psalm 102 speaks of deep emotional and physical distress. It describes what I once experienced in a time of great anxiety – sleeplessness, neglect of food, and the kind of loneliness that left me alienated from all that is warm and secure. At a time like that, everything narrows down to the hard reality of personal anguish. The writer of this psalm, though, took time to ponder what God’s life had to do with his experience. He knew something of God’s character and promises, and these widened the writer’s perspective to reshape his view of his situation. With God in the mix, he found meaning in his experience and hope for a blessed future, “that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.”

How often I need reminding that my experience today is not the only defining reality. This psalm testifies that God’s presence is real in times of great trial. Yet this moment is but one piece of a tapestry across and within the sweep of history through which God is working restoration – especially in torn and broken places. Although he is “enthroned on high,” God is attentive to “hear the groans of the prisoners.” I know this to be true, as in my job I have encountered many prisoners whom God has profoundly met. God is not helplessly bound by the narrow meanness of human experience; he is working transformation in and through it. Sometimes we see it. Sometimes we, like this psalmist, anchor our hope in the character of God to believe for a future we cannot see.

This Holy Week, as we consider the events culminating in Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, may we hold fast to what these events show us about God’s redeeming love. The psalm observes that temporal things are ever-changing but proclaims that the creator-God remains the same forever. His good purposes are sure. Despite the valleys of human suffering, there is certain hope. As we commit ourselves to God’s love and life, we, too, are part of that story that ends with a shout of joy and life in God’s presence, forever and ever.

Karen Strong

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Lamentations 2:1-9, 14-17; Psalm 74;
2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11; Mark 12:1-11

Thank God for everything. Thank God for all the bad things that have happened to you. Thank God for your hopeless situations. And thank God for every single thing in your life, whether you think it is good or bad.

We know from God’s word that he is the truth. He is the light! In him there is no darkness at all. Although we are faithless, God remains faithful. Although we often turn from God, he never turns from us.

Understand that praying to God is not asking him for something. For the word of God tells us that God has already given us all good things according to his will – that whatever you ask for according to the will of God, it shall be yours. We ask God in our hearts. For God knows the thoughts and desires of every man and woman.

Our lips and mouths were made to praise God! Our vocal cords were made to worship God and his holy name. We don’t need to keep asking God for the same things over and over. All we need to do is thank him for them. God has promised his children that he will answer our prayers. Just believe in him. Thank him, worship him, and praise him night and day. Praise God! Praise God! Praise God! Praise God! Praise God! Praise God!

Adam Ferguson

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Lamentations 1:17-22; Psalms 6, 12;
2 Corinthians 1:8-22; Mark 11:27-33

“By what authority are you doing these things?” ask the elders, teachers, and chief priests to Jesus. I was struck the first several times upon reading this one particular passage. I was struck not by what they were asking Jesus, but by the good chance that Jesus may be asking me – and us – this very same question.

Jesus’ authority is made evident by now. While some people begin to fear this power and deny his eminence, others still continue to ask questions.

This may lead you to believe that some really want to believe in him, but instead feel the heavy persecution and the pressures of the people and world around them.

Jesus’ answer to them humbly reveals his character and authoritative nature. “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism – was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!” (Mark 11:29-30.)

He could have chosen to tell them the answer they wanted to hear. But instead, as a teacher, a leader, and a savior, he lets them answer their own questions by telling them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Mark 11:33.)

The beauty of this passage comes in two forms. One, Jesus’ persona is not to always tell us the correct answers. He is not as overt as, I’m sure, we would like him to be. Like a father, he allows us to learn, grow, achieve, and stumble. However, it is only through him that we receive grace throughout. Second, the message to us appears to be hidden. But there is an obvious and clear question for us: “Who is your authority?”

By what authority do we make decisions each day? Is it by our own, or by our neighbors’, classmates’, or co-workers’ authority? As Christians, followers of a supreme and holy authority, we gave up that control when we gave our lives to Christ.

Melissa Young

Monday, April 10, 2006

Lamentations 1:1-2, 6-12; Psalm 69:1-23;
2 Corinthians 1:1-7; Mark 11:12-25

I really enjoy a passage from 2 Corinthians that is in our readings today. I find it very inspirational, and I hope you do, too. The passage, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, is this: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

Many times I mistakenly equate “comfort” with “my troubles should go away.” This is true if someone close to me comforts me or if God comforts me. When I was a child, I expected my mother to make everything all right. Today I sometimes expect God to make everything right. After all, I am a good person, a servant of God. Shouldn’t he help make my troubles go away when I am in need? However, when I begin to feel that way I have to remind myself what Paul means when he uses the word comfort in this passage.

Paul reminds us that God’s comfort means receiving the strength, encouragement, and hope to deal with our troubles or trials. The greater our troubles, or the more we suffer, the more God comforts us. The very good news is that as children of God we can ask for and allow him to comfort us. His comfort will get us through any trial we face in this life.

Why do we face trials in the first place? We face these trials for several reasons. Trials allow our faith to grow – our faith that God will get us through the trials. They allow us to experience God getting us through them. By experiencing these trials, we can now comfort others who experience similar trials. Paul points this out in the passage: “ … so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” Sometimes we go through a trial for our own growth. Sometimes we go through a trial to help someone else grow. And sometimes we go through a trial for both.

Let’s remember to have faith in God to get us through our trials. Genuine faith has great potential!

Richard Leach

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalms 24, 29; 1 Timothy 6:12-16;
Luke 19:41-48

As a young girl, I looked forward to Palm Sunday. On this day, the palms were blessed and distributed, and we were allowed to participate in the procession, waving our palms and singing “All glory, laud, and honor to thee, Redeemer, King.” It was all quite grand and seemed an appropriate tribute befitting of a king. It was a time of expectation as well as possibility. In today’s readings, against the backdrop of his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, however, we see Jesus weeping and sounding a warning to the people of Israel to “clean up their act.” Jesus weeps as he enters Jerusalem, and his actions in the temple clearly show us not only his frustration but his love for his people, knowing that their failure to choose repentance and peace over disobedience will lead to their ultimate destruction. God does indeed weep when we choose to not recognize “the things that make for peace.” Jesus calls for the people of Israel to recognize his sovereignty and his authority to bring about peace through obedience to his law of love, but they choose not to see. All too frequently, the things that bring about peace remain hidden from us when we choose not to recognize the authority of Jesus in our lives. The consequences are evident in our world today. War, starvation, destruction, and oppression are reminders of our failure to respond to Jesus’ call for peace. However, if we follow Jesus’ command to love one another, and if we recognize and act on those things that bring about peace, we can take part in restoring hope in the power of God to bring about wholeness and peace to our world. This begins with repentance and forgiveness. It continues with sharing our resources and welcoming the lonely, sick, and outcast into our communities and homes; and it ends with a new understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and live a holy life. Let Jesus not weep for us today because we did not recognize the things that make for peace.

Ann Ritonia

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Exodus 10:21-11:8; Psalms 137, 144; 2 Corinthians 4:13-18; Mark 10:46-52

Faith. The Gospel reading for today is a good lesson in faith. It begins with Jesus entering Jericho, where he encounters a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. As Bartimaeus begins crying for Jesus, many people tell him to stop, but he continues because he believes that Jesus can heal him. Jesus soon hears him and calls for him to come to the front. Bartimaeus then asks Jesus to heal him of his blindness. Immediately Bartimaeus is able to see.

“Your faith has made you well.”

Those words sum up the entire story. Through his faith, Bartimaeus is able to overcome physical blindness. But he also overcomes the spiritual blindness that is present in many of us. When we don’t have faith, we aren’t able to see God’s miracles. The story continues to teach us more still, because Bartimaeus was blind to God’s existence before this event. We need to go out and make sure that other people aren’t blind as well. It is our responsibility to teach God’s word so other people might share it. But in addition to spreading God’s word, we need to follow it. After he was healed, Bartimaeus didn’t continue begging on the streets as he had before. Instead, he followed Jesus on the road, and this is what we need to do when we become aware of God’s miracles in our lives.

Michael Vereb

Friday, April 07, 2006

Exodus 9:13-35; Psalms 141, 143;
2 Corinthians 4:1-12; Mark 10:32-45

The section of Exodus, chapters 3 through 12, which includes today’s reading and tells the story of the freeing of the Israelites from the slavery in Egypt, is one of my favorite Biblical texts. Maybe it conjures up pictures of a young, handsome Charlton Heston and beautiful Yvonne DeCarlo leading the Israelites (that is, lots of Hollywood extras) across the Red Sea (aka, a Hollywood set). Maybe it’s my sheer amazement at the feat itself – one man leading tens of thousands of extremely poor people into the desert – based upon his faith in a voice from a burning bush. Whatever the draw, it is a rich story for the ages.

Throughout the Bible, we read many examples of God’s tremendous love for his people. Time and time again he saves them from terrible circumstances, brought about either by their own hand or by the hands of another. This reading illustrates how God, through Moses, gave Pharaoh lots of opportunity to set the Israelites free without God’s retribution. But he did not listen. Instead, his heart remained “hardened.” And each time, God did exactly as he said he would, whether it was sending the different plagues or drowning Pharaoh’s troops as they chased the Israelites across the Red Sea.

Isn’t that like a good parent? You give your child lots of opportunities to do good, partly to teach them but mostly because none of us relish disciplining our child. This is not the first time, nor the last, that God’s love takes the form of maternal or paternal love. There are many examples throughout the Bible of a parental love so deep: for example, Abraham in Genesis 22; or Mary, Jesus’ mother, scared of potential death for conceiving outside of wedlock, traveling to Bethlehem to give birth to the Son of God. Moses’ mother, trying to save him from death, put Moses into a basket and set the basket in the Nile River where Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses and raised him as her own. I read these stories and wonder if I could ever love my children as much as God loves us. I pray that if I am ever tested the way that Moses’ mother or Jesus’ mother was, I will meet that challenge in the same manner they did.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Exodus 7:25-8:19; Psalms 140, 142;
2 Corinthians 3:7-18; Mark 10:17-31

A young man ran up to Jesus, knelt before him, and asked him a question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

There is a lot to admire about this young man. He was economically successful – as we learn he had great possessions. He recognized people of importance and was evidently looking to Jesus to give him direction. He was running to Jesus, which indicated he was passionate or at least moved to action by his beliefs. Most significantly, he was willing to ask important questions. Unfortunately, the young man could handle the answer when Jesus told him to sell all he had, give the money to the poor, then come and follow him.

I imagine that the disciples observed this encounter with a mixture of emotions. Perhaps after the young man left, they expected to move on and continue with their journey to Jerusalem. Jesus, however, had other plans. He moved the disciples from observers to participants by engaging them on the very issue with which the young man struggled. He began to talk about how difficult it will be for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. This discussion resonated with the disciples, not necessarily because they were rich, but because they had already sacrificed all that they had. As Peter confessed to Jesus, “We have left all and have followed you.”

As I read these verses, I was left with several questions.

  • Was it just because he had great possessions that the young man turned and left Jesus?
  • What was it about the disciples that made them able to leave all they had to follow Jesus?
  • Am I willing to take the important questions to Jesus?
  • What am I willing to sacrifice to follow Jesus?

This short story portrays two different responses to the questions of how we handle our resources and what we are willing to sacrifice to follow Jesus. We must all answer these questions for ourselves, but how we answer them will affect every aspect of our life and our walk of faith.

Alan Davenport

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Exodus 7:8-24; Psalms 128, 129, 130;
2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6; Mark 10:1-16

God cared about his people – the Israelites – so he instructed Moses and Aaron to go to the Pharaoh and implore him to set them free. But God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and made him want to keep the Israelites in slavery. The Israelites sang songs of God’s glory and prayed for mercy while still in bondage. God heard and took pity, sending Moses, Aaron, and the plagues to Egypt to show Pharaoh that he must let God’s people go. God made Pharaoh’s heart harden, however, because he knew it was going to take something big to make Pharaoh see the light and recognize God as the one and only true God. Meanwhile, he sent Moses and Aaron to do smaller things (such as turning the Nile into blood and the staff to a snake) in order to work slowly on Pharaoh and let him have a chance to counteract by using his magicians. God fought fair up to the end, doing things he knew the magicians and sorcerers could recreate, until the final plague, which he knew could not be duplicated, and which was the final straw in Pharaoh’s letting the Israelites go.

God is patient with everyone – with Pharaoh, with the Israelites, and with us today.

God comes through for the downtrodden. Even though the Israelites were stuck in slavery, they did not forget God, and he did not forget them. He remembers us just the same. He wants us to worship him through all the things that happen in our lives. He is always there for us.

Bethany Hansberger

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Exodus 5:1-6:1; Psalms 124, 125, 126, 127;
1 Corinthians 14:20-33a, 39-40; Mark 9:42-50

I had a hard time with these readings today. I felt frustrated that they seemed more on the negative side rather than espousing God’s love. Perhaps I just didn’t understand the message. Thank heaven for the gift of a devotional book at Christmas to lead me out of this spiral. I knew I wanted to write about avoiding temptation, as the reading from Mark spoke the loudest to me. The book I received, by Frances J. Roberts, mentions that with more pressure on our time, we tend to sin more. We’re focusing too much on the “small wheel” of our daily lives rather than on the big life we have to look forward to with God. We’re too quick to forget about our spiritual life, yet when we do remember, what a tremendous relief comes over us! It’s as if time stands still – at just the right moment.

I have a little trick when I feel there’s no time left to get the hundred things done that need to be done. (Why does that feeling always hit me when I’m sitting in rush hour traffic?!) If I’m listening to current music, I switch to classical. I love the reminder that God created such talented people centuries ago whose “product” is still greatly appreciated; this just makes me feel my problems are small in the context of several hundred years. But the best trick I keep up my sleeve (admittedly only when I’m alone) is to sing the Gloria out loud, and I find I sing it several times in a row. It sure feels better praising God and wishing peace to his people on earth – even the slow pokes.

I pray for that presence of mind to do the same when true temptation arises. It’s at that point I need most to remember the eternal glory of God.

Dear gracious Father, help me to remember your presence and love during times of temptation so that I may follow the right path. Help me to be a good and right example of your ever present love. In your name, I pray.

Lisa Lintelman

Monday, April 03, 2006

Exodus 4:10-31; Psalm 35; 1 Corinthians 14:1-19;
Mark 9:30-41

For some of us, it is difficult to approach other people and talk about God’s word and our faith. God spoke to Moses on the mountain and chose him to reveal his message. But Moses felt that he was not the right person to deliver God’s message to the Israelites. If Moses didn’t feel up to the task, how can you and I be expected to spread God’s word?

God knows and loves each one of us, our gifts and our limitations. God knew that Moses was not a great orator, so he provided Aaron to speak on his behalf. In Exodus 4:10-31, we learn that Aaron was chosen to be the communicator who would travel with Moses to deliver the messages as God had revealed them. God provided for the needs of Moses. If we trust in God, he will provide for us as well.

I struggle with how I can better spread the word of God. Every day God provides opportunities for me to communicate his message, but I often am not sure what to say or how to say it. I trust that God will provide me with the guidance and resources I need in those situations, but sometimes I sure could use Aaron standing by my side. How can I better prepare myself for these opportunities?

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks of the many spiritual gifts. Among these is the gift of prophecy. Prophecy is defined as “to reveal the will or message of God.” In I Corinthians 14:1-19, we are told to desire prophecy over speaking in tongues. Speaking in ways that no one can understand does not build up God’s church. We should speak clearly so that others can understand.

The best way for me to prepare myself is to learn all that I can. The more I read and study the word of God, the better he can reveal his will to me. and the easier it will be for me to communicate it to others.

Peter Hart

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Exodus 3:16-4:12; Psalm 145; Romans 12:1-21;
John 8:46-59

God allowed Moses to run from the pain of a failed attempt to rescue his suffering people in Egypt. Moses began a new life in the desert of Midian as a shepherd. He married, had children, yet longed for his own people. He didn’t realize that taking care of ewes and lambs was a leadership course. (Compare King David.) God’s works must be done in God’s way. After forty years God appeared in the form of a burning bush and said, in effect. “Moses, you’ve got mail!” Moses listened and was told to take off his shoes – for this was a holy chat room. Moses obeyed. The authority was established. God continued to instruct, confirming the message with signs and wonders. Then God said he wanted Moses to go to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to “let Israel go now!”

It had been an awesome conversation. Then Moses realized he was going to have to face his fear. His insecurities clutched him. “I’m not a good speaker. I have a speech impediment. Please, send someone else.” Moses would rather be depressed than be delivered, it seemed.

God understood, though it angered him. As a pacifier, he gave Moses his brother Aaron to become his spokesman. Moses would not have to be alone to do God’s work. Someone from home was the encouragement Moses needed to go forth, a comfort that would be seen and touched.

In time, that provision would not satisfy. One day someone would come in the flesh who would understand all sides of any conflict and would free all slaves of the natural mind. That time had not yet come for Moses. But for us, when God says we’ve got mail, because of Jesus, we are equipped to hear his voice and obey the message with risen assurance.

Althea Kuniholm

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Exodus 2:23-3:15; Psalm 33; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13;
Mark 9:14-29

One of my favorite Bible passages is 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. It is a poignant, clear reminder of what Christians are supposed to be and do. In a world that often views Christians as close-minded, un-accepting, and generally unexciting people, this verse proclaims a joyous counterclaim: we are called to love, and to love wholly, fully, and with great gladness!

Love is one of the most simple, basic human needs. Yet often it is not fulfilled. I know many people who don’t feel loved. I have friends whom I’ve never heard utter that small, beautiful word. They talk about how their parents don’t love them, how their siblings get more love and attention. Some feel their parents are trying to buy them off with material things; others feel there’s no one who really cares. When they look for something to fill this empty, swallowing chasm in their hearts, they look in the wrong places – top of the line technology; a never-ending stream of music that screams loves, lusts, and dreams in words that are not their own; and sex and drugs. Often I see people broken behind their smiles, looking empty behind their eyes. What would it take simply to love these people? It wouldn’t take much to tell people we love them with honesty and sincerity in our eyes and in our hearts. It wouldn’t take much to act out the little things that really matter, the little favors that can mean a world of difference. What would it be like to love the world in all its heartbreaking sadness and imperfection – to love it for its possibilities, its potential? To love it for what it will become when Christ comes again?

I confess, I have a huge soft spot for all those Bible verses that speak of the “old things” passing away. I often lose faith in this world and in so many people. Lately even those whom I have always considered nearest and dearest, whom I would never expect to disappoint me, have let me down and left me jaded, secure only in myself and my God. (I suppose this is one of those things adults call “growing up.”) Sadly, my hermit-like urges are one of my greatest weaknesses. I often find myself content to be disconnected from the world and all who are in it. But God clearly says there is much more to Christianity than that. Love is not just a single thing, a simple relationship. It is a great, complex web tying his creation into one; it is the life for which every man and woman thirsts.

We are called to be patient with our parents while they search for the word to finish the sentence in the story they’ve told you time and time again. We are called to be kind to those who ridicule our beliefs and our values. We are called to be selfless, to forgive and forget when our friends take advantage of us (accidentally or purposefully). Love is everything we could ever hope to be and everything we could ever hope to be done for us – to always protect, trust, hope, and above all, persevere, even when odds are piled against us and we feel there is no one we could ever trust anymore, and it’s simply useless to hope because we’ll be let down, our spirits crushed with disappointment.

But nonetheless we look to God, and we smile, and we love. Because as Christians we know that love always perseveres, and in the end everything else shall pass away and bow before its glory.

Christine Merola