Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Ephesians 4:1-16

Boy, we have another great passage from one of Paul's letters as our reading today. Come to think of it, they all are great passages.

For today, let's focus on the first part of the reading. In verse 1 Paul urges all of us to live a life worthy of God's calling. With God's help we are His representatives on earth. As His representatives, as outlined in verse 2, we are to be humble, gentle, patient, understanding, and peaceful. People watch the way we live our lives. When they watch can they see Christ in you? Can they see Christ in me? Do we demonstrate the characteristics of a representative of Christ? Do others see in us a life that they want to lead? This is an awesome responsibility but one we should undertake with our whole heart.

Paul goes on to say, "there is one body". Of course Paul is talking about unity among Christians. Unity does not just happen, we have to work at it. Differences among people can lead to division, but this should not happen in the church. Instead of focusing on our differences, we should focus on what unites us - one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God. This is extremely hard to do, but we are called to learn to appreciate people who are different. We are called to see their different gifts, talents, and abilities, and encourage them to use their attributes to strengthen God's church. It is very easy to hang out with people who are like you. If we learn to appreciate people who are different, we will find hanging out with them is rewarding too, and as we all know, it is difficult to encourage someone you don't hang out with.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,

Richard Leach

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Ephesians 3:14-21

Daily Devotional – Tuesday May 30 2006
Ephesians 3:14 - 21

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

I wish you a very special day today. I wish that you have the opportunity to thank God for your life and how wonderful it is. Even if you may think your life isn’t wonderful, the fact that you are reading this devotional means that God is in your life and that alone makes it wonderful. Today I am flying back from opening my summer cottage in eastern Canada. It is a wonderful time of year and I realize again how blessed I am.

Many years ago when I was first struggling with understanding God, someone gave me a book to read. It was called Sit Walk Stand written by a Chinese Christian called Watchman Nee. It is a small book of less than 100 pages and very easy to read and understand. It is a study and commentary on Ephesians. It speaks of 3 phases of the Christian journey and development. Today’s reading is from the Sit phase. The 3 phases are sequential and to Sit is the first stage. One might assume you would start a journey by doing something. Not so according to Mr. Nee. You start by sitting and quietly talking to God; to be conscious of your spiritual self within. Through faith in Jesus Christ we have God within us. He is not some foreign Power residing up there somewhere. He is here and now. Our spiritual self is God given and Jesus is the power source. Faith is our battery. It gives us knowledge that passes all understanding. (sound familiar?)

Before we can get up and go and do god’s work, we must first restore our energy and our battery. We must sit and let our Soul talk to God. The world and its demands on us will force us into confined spaces where our focus is very narrow and our knowledge limited. It doesn’t have to be that way. We all have God within. We just have to sit still long enough to discover it.

AMEN

John Dickie, May 30, 2006

Monday, May 29, 2006

Ephesians 3:1-13

In this letter, written for circulation among churches in Asia Minor, including Ephesus, Paul put the gospel of Jesus Christ in cosmic perspective, then applied that cosmic perspective to the daily life of followers of Jesus. At the center of this gospel, in both cosmic perspective and personal application, is reconciliation.

The good news of Jesus consists of a twofold reconciliation. One, we are reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Two, we are reconciled to each other by the same.

Reconciliation does not result from coming to agreement. Nor does it result from agreeing to disagree. Reconciliation comes about through death and resurrection in Jesus: death to our old life and relationship; resurrection to new life and relationship; with God and with each other.

Paul knew this intimately. At the time, Jews and Gentiles (i.e., all who were not Jews) did not generally mix. In fundamental ways, they were unlike and at odds. Jews considered Gentiles to be outside God’s special love and grace. Yet God extended his whole love and grace to encompass Gentiles, to include them in the same relationship with him as the Jews enjoyed. For Jews who had become followers of Jesus, this may have been difficult to accept. Paul, however, a Jewish Christian and passionate apostle of Jesus to the Gentiles, attested to the essentiality of God’s all-encompassing, peace-making love and grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This then is the church: the God-reconciled and people-reconciled family of men, women, and children from all races and nations.

From the beginning of history God intended this gospel. It was not an afterthought, an ad hoc response dreamed up by God as a last resort. For ages long God has planned and acted to reconcile all in his love and grace. In Jesus God culminated his plan and action. In Jesus he continues to reconcile. This then is the gospel in cosmic perspective, to be lived out daily: to be reconciled to God and to each other through nothing less than our very death and resurrection in Jesus.

Gregory Strong

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Ephesians 2:11-22













To the people of Ephesus (and perhaps other places as well, for Paul's letters tended to be copied and circulated around the empire) who received this wonderful letter, it is full of fabulous news, but this passage in particular speaks of a great thing that has been accomplished in the here and now: these people are no longer foreigners. Near by or far off, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, it no longer makes a difference. They (and we) are all made one in Christ. The wall has been torn down, for good and forever. No need to make pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem; no need for grown men to undergo painful surgery; no second-class, second-best status; Jesus has leveled the field. He has laid himself down as the foundation on which everything now can be built.

All of that is the Good News. But being a Christian has earthly consequences as well. To confess Jesus as Lord is also to say that the Emperor is not Lord (and what woes followed those whom the empire viewed as disloyal). A statement of faith then (and now) is therefore also a political and a revolutionary statement: My primary allegiance is not to any mortal ruler. My primary citizenship, no matter the pride (or lately, embarrassment or shame) I may feel in being an American (as Paul's pride in being a Roman citizen), is not of a nation but of the kingdom of God. Jesus has called us out of the nations, and I, together with my sisters and brothers across the globe and across eternity, am part of God's eternal purpose.

Lord Jesus, thank you for making us part of the royal household. You found us in our hopeless condition and restored us to wholeness. Grant that we may find your peace, and bring your peace to this still-broken world. Amen.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Ephesians 2:1-10

No matter how many times I read the words in verses 8 and 9 of this passage – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” – I am somewhat puzzled. Perhaps it is because I was brought up in somewhat of the “old school” form of Episcopalianism. I grew up thinking that you had to earn your way to heaven. You had to do “good works”. In fact, in this very passage, verse 10, it states that “…we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…”

This is something I continually have to concentrate on, to retrain my mind to think differently about this. Verse 5 says it in a nutshell – “…it is by grace you have been saved.” But, at the same time, Christians are called to meet the Great Commandment – Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind, and the second is like unto it – thou shalt love your neighbor as yourself. This commandment requires that you do something. As a Christian, you cannot do nothing, nor can you continue to sin and not change your ways (lots of double negatives in that sentence!).

We are only saved by Christ’s death on the cross. That’s it, period. But, to truly believe in that grace, one must actively live God’s Word. You can’t on the one hand believe that Christ died for our sins then on the other hand not meet God’s commandments. And, since we are after all humans, living God’s commandments may not come as easily for some even though they have accepted Christ as their personal savior. It requires work, maybe even great works.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Ephesians 1: 11-23

The astute among you will recognize that this is not, in fact, the reading for today. That’s because today is Ascension Day. One of the big days in the church year, it has its own set of readings. It also has its own collect (prayer), which captures what we celebrate on this day well.
Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe youronly-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascendedinto heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend,and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns withyou and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Still, because part of our purpose in writing these devotions is to encourage all of us to walk through the Bible, I’m going to keep going with the book of Ephesians. Specifically, Ephesians 1: 11-23.

It’s a stunning passage, filled with such essential truths as God choose you (!!!) to help accomplish His purposes, and that Christ—and Christ alone—is the supreme authority in the church. How easy it can be to forget that—and how deadly!

But the verses I want to focus briefly on are the words of Paul’s prayer in verses 17-19. For starters, it is well worth praying this prayer for one another: That we would know Christ better; that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened, and that we might know His incomparably great power working in us who believe. What could be more important, more vital to our life, than this?

Notice that the same power at work in us is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. Think about that a minute. That’s a lot of power! Eugene Peterson translates it, “endless energy, boundless strength.”

Notice, however, that such power is for those who “believe”. Do you believe you have that power at work in your life? Do I? And if so, how is it being manifested? How is that power at work in your life and mine? Such power is meant for more than merely going to church and living a nice, safe little life.

With such power available to us, what are we doing with it?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Ephesians 1:1-10

The devotion I wrote last week was about the conclusion to 1 Thessalonians. This week I get to write about the opening of Ephesians.

Off the top of one's head, one might think there is not much to write about in the opening verses of a letter. I mean what can Paul say in the first 10 verses? The opening of a letter is usually just filled with pleasantries and telling the recipient how your life is going. But this is not the case with the opening of Paul's letter to the Ephesians. These opening verses have some powerful messages. Let's take a look.

Paul tells us that God is to be praised because He has given us "every spiritual blessing" in Christ. I do not know about you, but I do not always feel spiritually blessed. Sometimes I wonder if I missed out on one or two of these blessings. Paul helps us here as well. To make sure we do not misunderstand what he means by "every spiritual blessing", Paul spells them out.

First, we have received the blessing of being adopted by God as His spiritual children. Please remember that Paul wrote this letter form a prison in Rome. In ancient Roman times, when someone adopted you, you received the same rights and privileges as a natural born child. Thus, when Paul says God adopted us, we receive His grace like a father gives forgiveness to his own children.

The second spiritual blessing comes to us through God's son, Jesus. Here four items are listed that make up this blessing - redemption, forgiveness, enlightenment, and enrichment. To be redeemed means to be brought back. By being redeemed by Christ we are freed from sin. To forgive means to give up the right to punish for that transgression. Enlightenment means understanding, or knowing, God's will. Finally, we are enriched when we give up living by our will and live following the will of God.

Yes, there is much in the opening of Ephesians. Paul outlines clearly how each of us has received spiritual blessings and how lucky we are to have received them. With so much in the opening, one can just imagine what must be in the remainder of the letter.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

1 Timothy 2:1-6

Daily Devotional – Tuesday May 23 2006
1 Timothy 2:1 - 6

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

Oh to be able to use the English language in such an effective way as this. This short passage illustrates how simply God’s word can be communicated and also that it does not take many words to do it. In the 5 verses and under 100 well chosen words, God’s message is clear. We are instructed to humble ourselves and to offer supplications, thanksgivings and to pray for ALL men; to humble ourselves and NOT to pray for ourselves but for all men.

We are told to pray for Kings and others in high places that they will rule and govern wisely so that we can lead the kind of life God intends us to lead. This acknowledges that life without God’s grace and blessing is not quiet, peaceable and godly. Left to our own devises, life without God is not what it should be.

God wants something better for us and has made the “Good Life” available through Jesus Christ and his sacrifice.

I need to be reminded regularly that I am not God. The good life I have is a gift from the grace of God. It is a gift I do not deserve. I must humble myself and pray for others and be thankful. But just doing that is not enough. I will be judged not by my good intentions but by my good actions.

But I must start by being humble.

AMEN

John Dickie, May 23, 2006

Monday, May 22, 2006

Colossians 1:9-14

We wish many things for those whom we love – children, spouse, other family members, friends, and even fellow members of the church. How many of those things we wish for come more from our culture and not from the kingdom of God? They may not be overtly bad things. Yet they do not rise from the foundation and purposes of the kingdom.

Reading and writing this on the eve of my daughter’s birthday, I am struck with the need to take to heart kingdom desires and aims for those we love as expressed in Paul’s prayer in verses 9 through 12 of Colossians 1. What if the things he prayed for there should become the focus, the substance, of what we desire for those we love when we think of and pray for them? What if we desired and prayed – not for success in school or work, not for wealth or popularity, not for a myriad of other things in our culture which glitter for attention and desire – but for knowledge of God’s will, for spiritual wisdom and understanding? What if we prayed for such knowledge, wisdom, and understanding for our loved ones so they would live a life worthy of Jesus – bearing fruit in all manner of good works, with spiritual strength in God’s power and glory, with endurance and patience, with fullness of joy and gratitude?

Why should we desire these things for family, friends, and fellow believers? We should wish these things because God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness. He has brought us into the kingdom of light. Where God is not acknowledged as ruler, darkness ultimately engulfs. Why would we wish for our loved ones things that essentially come from or ultimately lead to a place where God is not acknowledged, even if in dimmest light those things seem attractive? How much better to desire for them “the brightest and best” of the kingdom of light!

What would happen if we passionately desired and prayed for these things from the kingdom of light for our loved ones? How truly, fully, and gloriously might they live a life worthy of the Lord? I know I should desire and pray far better for my family, friends, and fellow believers, not to mention for myself. Should we not all do better in desiring kingdom things, in praying with kingdom focus and substance, for those whom we say we love?

Gregory Strong

Sunday, May 21, 2006

James 1:2-8;16-18

James is one of my favorite books in the New Testament. I find it contains a lot of straight-forward, easy to understand, practical advice, but I always do a double-take when I read the words, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (James 1:2)

Why does James tell us to consider it joy when we face trials?

I don’t know about you, but I never look forward to trials. Trials are difficult. They’re tiring. I try to make choices and live in such a way to avoid trials. When I am in a trial, I do what I can to get out of the trial as quickly as I can. Joy is not a typical thought I have when I’m in a trial.

James tells us why we should consider it joy when we face a trial in the next few verses: “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3-4)

Our trials will yield a result – a beneficial result. James is encouraging us to look beyond the circumstances of the trial and focus on the fruit that can be grown in our lives through the trial. He is calling us to confidently hope and fully anticipate God’s faithfulness to us, even in the midst of our trials.

We may never look forward trials, but we can choose to heed these words from James and grasp the promise they give to us.


Alan Davenport

Saturday, May 20, 2006

2 Thessalonians 3:1-18


The Apostle Paul – a Realist for Christ!

Paul concludes his short little letter to the Thessalonian believers with a strong dose of realism. While he encourages these early believers to spread the Word rapidly so the Lord may be glorified…he doesn’t avoid some harsh words about the infant church. He uses such phrases as “evil people,” “living in idleness,” and “mere busybodies.” And the startling point he makes is this: these aren’t some coarse pagans…no they should be “warned as believers!”

There’s a lesson in that for us today. We may look at people who appear to be falling away from the faith and pigeon-hole them as anti-Christian, maybe even evil. Not so with Paul. He knew his own heart and how he had opposed the Gospel earlier and even consented to executions of some of the early believers. So, he had compassion for those who were wavering from the teachings of the Word. He wanted to include them, not exclude them from the fold, and see them come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul was also realistic about a Christian’s role in society. Even though he was a recognized leader in the early church, he didn’t take advantage of others (“…we didn’t eat anyone’s bread, without paying for it.”) He had no cushy retirement plan. He worked hard to support himself so he could extend the Gospel without charge! In my early New England childhood home, my mother hand-painted a number of cupboard panels in our colonial home’s kitchen. Some had cryptic verses from the Finnish epic poem, the Kalevalla…but one panel had a quote in Swedish that came from II Thess. 3:10 – “…anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” Not until much later in life did I realize this was a quote from the Bible. It certainly was appropriate for the kitchen where our meals were served.

Finally, Paul was realistic about himself. He may have been suffering from poor eyesight. So his concluding phrase, “This is the mark in every letter of mine: it is the way I write.” No excuses. No cover-up. No, he just said it the way it is. It made his final thought so much more inspiring, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you.”

Roland Kuniholm

Friday, May 19, 2006

2 Thessalonians 2:1-17

Once again in the daily lectionary I find Paul offering comfort and direction to Christians. Ironically in this time before the release of the movie The DaVinci Code, Paul says, some rumors are going around which are supposed to be true, but don’t become worried or alarmed. Paul sets the record straight.

In regards to the time of the man of lawlessness, it sounds like a time of confusion. A person will come and set himself up to be worshipped. He will display counterfeit miracles. Many people will be deluded.

We feel like that sometimes. We get confusing messages from society. Things are hard to sort out. If we can wade through, can our children or the friends we love?

The good news comes when Paul offers comfort in verses 13-17. He tells the Christians that they are loved, and chosen by God. They are saved he says, by the work of the Holy Spirit. They are called to share in Christ’s glory. So stand firm, Paul says, don’t be confused about who you are. Hold on to what you learned about the Saviour and about your faith.

And once again, we return to God’s grace. We can’t read too many verses in Paul without being reminded of God’s grace. Perhaps being thankful for God’s grace is the best daily habit to have. By God’s grace, Paul says in verse 16, God gave us eternal encouragement and good hope. May our hearts be encouraged. (v17). These encouraging words remind me when Jesus said, “do not be afraid, little flock” (Luke 12:32) and I’m thankful for words of encouragement and even triumph in times of confusion.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-17

Once again in the daily lectionary I find Paul offering comfort and direction to Christians. Ironically in this time before the release of the movie The DaVinci Code, Paul says, some rumors are going around which are supposed to be true, but don’t become worried or alarmed. Paul sets the record straight.

In regards to the time of the man of lawlessness, it sounds like a time of confusion. A person will come and set himself up to be worshipped. He will display counterfeit miracles. Many people will be deluded.

We feel like that sometimes. We get confusing messages from society. Things are hard to sort out. If we can wade through, can our children or the friends we love?

The good news comes when Paul offers comfort in verses 13-17. He tells the Christians that they are loved, and chosen by God. They are saved he says, by the work of the Holy Spirit. They are called to share in Christ’s glory. So stand firm, Paul says, don’t be confused about who you are. Hold on to what you learned about the Saviour and about your faith.

And once again, we return to God’s grace. We can’t read too many verses in Paul without being reminded of God’s grace. Perhaps being thankful for God’s grace is the best daily habit to have. By God’s grace, Paul says in verse 16, God gave us eternal encouragement and good hope. May our hearts be encouraged. (v17). These encouraging words remind me when Jesus said, “do not be afraid, little flock” (Luke 12:32) and I’m thankful for words of encouragement and even triumph in times of confusion.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

Obviously, today we start with a new book of the Bible—the second letter of Paul to the Thessalonians. Like the first letter, it is written clarify what is going to happen in the future. I can’t wait to see what my wife writes tomorrow about the coming of the “man of lawlessness”.

As you will no doubt see in the days to come, for Paul this is not a matter of idle speculation or abstruse theological reverie. For him, it is very practical. The Christian vision of the future has concrete ramifications for how we live in the present.

Paul begins the letter with his normal thanksgivings and encouragement—not a bad practice to emulate in and of itself. But then he goes on to write quite frankly about divine retribution and eternal punishment. These words were meant to reassure and hearten the Thessalonians—though they were presently being persecuted for their faith, justice is on the way. Life is not fair, and evil does sometimes prosper—but the day is coming when God will set things right.

Still, these are hard words for many of us to read—words of God “punishing” (TNIV), “inflicting vengeance (NRSV), or “evening up the score (The Message). The reality of hell, and that this appears to be a very possibility for those who resist God and work again Him and his purposes, is quite disturbing.

But that, I think, is exactly the point. We are supposed to be disturbed—disturbed enough to do something about it. Disturbed enough to share our “testimony” with others; that is, to tell them about God, what He is doing in our lives (and hopefully He is doing enough that we have something to tell others), and therefore what He can do in their lives as well.

Disturbed enough to pray, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (verses 11-12). Prayer is more than just wishful thinking, but is a way of allowing God to focus our attention and direct our energy. It’s a way of allowing God to empower us.

Paul’s focus is very clear, isn’t. How’s your focus (and mine)?

The power of God at work in Paul’s life is made very clear in the faith, love, and perseverance of the Thessalonians. How’s God’s power being manifested (in no uncertain terms) in your life (and mine)?

Those are the practical applications of the Bible’s teaching about eternity. Who can ignore them?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

What a way to conclude a letter. These last verses of 1 Thessalonians conclude an awesome letter in an awesome way.

In these last verses Paul gives us some specific ways to display the changes Christ brings into our lives. In verses 12 & 13 Paul outlines the way we should behave toward church leaders - respect them and hold them in the highest regard. In verses 14 & 15 we are given instructions for Christian living - warn the idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, and do not seek revenge.

Verses 16 through 18 provide us with some inner attitudes a Christian should have. "Be joyful always" - no matter what circumstances you are in because you know your ultimate reward is yet to come. "Pray continually" - maintain a constant attitude of being in God's presence. "Give thanks in all circumstances" - realize that God works all things out for the good of those who love and serve Him.

Now Paul moves into some personal responsibilities and spiritual integrity in verses 19 through 22. Follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and do not stifle His work. Seek God's will and not your own. Follow the teachings found in the Bible. Measure everything you see and hear against the teaching in the Bible.

Finally we get to the benediction, verses 23 through 27. All of the instructions about our lifestyle can be accomplished only by the help of the Lord. We should pray for His assistance and presence.

Then, in verse 28, the sign-off, the goodbye. Many of us say goodbye by using whatever is in vogue, "see you later", "catch you later", "take it easy", "so long", "have a nice day". Paul wishes these people God's grace. What a wonderful ending to a letter that encourages us all to live for Christ instead of ourselves. Paul points out, extremely well, in this letter the question behind all the decisions we face. This question is always - who are we living for?

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Daily Devotional – Tuesday May 16 2006
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

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

Paul must have enjoyed writing to the faithful Thessalonians. Here again he recognizes them for their knowledge of the Lord and compliments them for their faith. His message to them is also to us today. Don’t become complacent in your faith. Don’t take anything for granted. “---The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night”. One must always be ready. I read this as; my judgment day is really today. I will not have the opportunity to prepare for it. I therefore must be prepared to be judged every minute of every day.

The image of light/darkness and day/night adds meaning. We all know that in the light of day we can see something coming and we can prepare to protect ourselves. But of course at night in the dark we cannot see what is coming and therefore cannot prepare. Since the day of The Lord will come without warning it is like being always in the dark. But as Christians we know this is not the case. We are Children of The Day and of The Light. Jesus has saved our souls and guaranteed us salvation through his sacrifice. We therefore need not worry about protecting ourselves and it doesn’t matter whether we see our judgment coming. There is no need for anxiety or worry.

I am still a closet worrier. My own insecurities cause me to constantly be on guard against the unknown. Fear of the unknown creates anxiety and stress. This is the most common ailment of our modern world. It creates high blood pressure and many other medical problems because the body is working overtime to protect itself from itself.

Jesus is the cure. Jesus “…died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him”. Relax and be happy. All is well. But, be ready.


AMEN

John Dickie, May 16, 2006

Monday, May 15, 2006

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

What may be fairly obvious we must yet plainly state to grasp the problem and response in this passage from Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Thessalonica (in ancient Macedonia, around 51 A.D.)

Jesus had died. Yet God had raised Jesus from death to new life. In death and resurrection, Jesus ultimately vanquished the power of death over him and the world. Therefore, Paul lived in an Easter world. So did the followers of Jesus in Thessalonica. Paul and the Thessalonians staked their lives on Easter life, on the risen Jesus.

Yet, when Paul wrote, some of those Thessalonian Christians had died. How could that happen in an Easter world? What did it mean? The living Thessalonians wondered – deeply, intensely, and even misguidedly – about the “what” and the “why” of death for followers of Jesus. Had not Jesus overcome death and given new life? What did it mean that some brothers and sisters in Jesus had succumbed to death, to what appeared to be death’s continuing power? What did this mean for the dead and the living?

We have the same questions, I imagine. I know I do. If we do not face them now, we will some day.

Paul responded to but did not exactly answer the questions. That is, he did not answer in the sense of explaining it all comprehensively with no uncertainties and no unknowns remaining. Rather, he encouraged the Thessalonians to focus on two fundamental truths, truths that encourage us as well.

1. We truly live in an Easter world, in the power of Jesus’ victory over death. Yes, we still experience physical death. This is the “already but not yet” character of life between the first and second comings of Jesus. However, when we physically die we “fall asleep” in Jesus. We are not dead dead. Somehow at rest in Jesus, we will, in God’s good time, “wake” in Jesus to a transformed life where death is at most a vague phantom long past.

2. Therefore, we have hope! We have hope as, in Jesus, we face death. We need not grieve nor fear as those who do not know him. Rather, we take and give courage as the Spirit strengthens our hearts with “sure and certain hope” in the love and life of the risen Jesus. And this is good news beyond any we could have counted on in our merely mortal frame!

Gregory Strong

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Hebrews 12:1-14

My girls had to run a timed mile this year in their PE classes. We did some practice runs where I would walk or jog beside them and encourage them as they were running. Father Rob has said many times that a coach helps you achieve more than you can achieve on your own. I absolutely saw this with my girls in these practice runs. They would focus and concentrate on their goal better when I was there beside them.

Today’s reading encourages us to, “… run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,” (Hebrews 12:1a-2a)

I thought about helping my girls with their running when I read this scripture, but I don’t believe that the verse is intending to hold Jesus up as a coach – someone to cheerlead for us and help us win our race of life, but rather he is to be our focus during the race. I think that my presence with my girls, helped them to focus on something other than the difficulty of the running, the tiredness they were feeling, or their desire to stop and rest. By looking beyond their present circumstances, they were better able to persevere in their task.

We are all running the race of life. We aren’t promised that if we focus on Jesus, all our troubles will disappear or that suddenly the race will be easy. We are however given a champion, Jesus, the one who ran and completed the most difficult of races. If we choose to focus on Him, we are promised that we will not grow weary and lose heart. We are all running, it's just a question of how we will choose to run.

How will you run your race?


Alan Davenport

Friday, May 12, 2006

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12


Is it your ambition to live quietly? To mind your own business?

What sort of legacy do quiet people leave behind, anyway?

Do we celebrate those among us who work with their hands?

Or those unassuming folk who are never a burden to anyone?

This is not the stuff of motivational speakers and self-help books. But maybe we should pay more attention to what Paul is saying here at the end of this letter to Thessalonica.

If we do these things, other people will notice, we will gain their respect, and (with the grace of God) they may themselves be drawn to the Light. Paul is not saying that we are to be silent--a few words will always be necessary--but the world will never be persuaded by anything unless they see our hands at work in Love.

The song by Casting Crowns sums that up:

If we are the body
Why arent His arms reaching
Why arent His hands healing
Why arent His words teaching
And if we are the body
Why arent His feet going
Why is His love not showing them there is a way
Jesus is the way

We are the body. Quietly but with graceful intent, let us be about that work.
-mlb

1 Thessalonians 3:1-13

Who is your Timothy? Have you ever had a Timothy? Maybe you had a Timothy and didn’t even know it. Maybe Timothy came in and out of your life and you did not realize it until later. Have you ever been a Timothy to someone else?

Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians to find out what was going on there, since they had not heard from the new church in Thessalonica for so long, and to give encouragement to them to continue their Christian journey, as difficult as it was. You may be able to imagine the joy of the Thessalonians when Timothy arrived. Being so far from Paul and the other early Christian leaders, the Thessalonians were facing such severe hardships for their new faith and they were facing them alone. How frightening must their daily lives had been! As for Timothy, just moving around that part of the world at that time posed grave dangers for the early Church leaders. Timothy left Paul, who not only was Timothy’s brother in Christ, but was Timothy’s teacher and mentor. Timothy must have been so joyful himself at having arrived at his destination.

Have you been in an anxious situation, perhaps even frightening, or maybe just a difficult time at home or at work, and someone does something for you out of sheer kindness, pure love? The few times this has happened to me have been wondrous. It is as if the heavens open and the sunbeams are landing directly on me. You can’t help but to feel uplifted. The times I have been on the giving end (and I’m embarrassed to say that there have not been scores of instances of this) I have also felt such a thrill to give someone that joyful feeling of grace. Part of this, I am sure, is because there just simply is not enough joyful grace in our lives today – not enough acts of kindness for kindness sake.

Can you imagine a church where all the members were Timothys? You would receive a call if you didn’t make it to church one Sunday. You would get a call if someone heard you were feeling under the weather. Meals would show up at your door during a difficult period.

So, as Christians, our duty is to be a Timothy to as many people as possible. To share the love of Christ, even if doing so may be difficult for us. The return you earn on that investment is nothing short of miraculous.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, May 11, 2006

1 Thessalonians 2:13-20

What is your pride and joy?

If you look at how your church spends most of its time and money, what would you say is the pride and joy of your church?

Some obvious answers come to mind. For some churches, their pride and joy is their building, or maybe some feature of it. For some it is their programs. For others it is their heritage. For still others, it might be their doctrinal statement and strict adherence to it.

Paul’s pride and joy—his “hope” and “joy” and “crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming” is perfectly clear in these verses: it’s people. The Thessalonians, Paul says, are his “glory and joy.”

It’s probably worth asking how we are investing ourselves in the lives of others so that they, like the Thessalonians, will receive God’s word as God’s word. In what ways are we devoting ourselves to people so that they might know the power of God’s word at work in them?

It’s probably also worth being very specific in answering these questions. Who are we investing in—names, faces? When are we doing it—precise times and places? Can we think of explicit changes that have occurred in people’s lives as a result of our sharing God’s word with them?

And when we think of these people and these times, is our heart filled with the same kind of thanks and joy that Paul describes in these verses? Is our joy in these people and our involvement in their lives the greatest joy of our lives?

Frankly, I think we let ourselves off the hook way too easily on this. And that’s too bad, because I think God is still looking for people like Paul and Silas and Timothy—people whose greatest joy is in loving people and sharing the Gospel with them.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

1 Thessalonians is one of my favorite letters that Paul wrote. In fact I had the privilege of leading a Bible study on this letter. In my comments today, I will expand on a couple of verses at the end of today's reading.

In verse 18 Paul writes, "For we wanted to come to you ... but Satan stopped us." I like this verse because I believe Satan is real and that Spiritual warfare is real. As Christians we should attempt to understand God's will for each of us through prayer and meditation. Satan does not want God's will to be accomplished so he will devise all sorts of schemes to distract us from our communication with God. When there does not seem to be time for prayer in our busy lives, this can be Satan adding too many things to our plate. It is our job, our duty, to overcome Satan's distractions and make sure we do find the time to pray. Now in Paul's case I am sure Satan did not keep Paul from understanding God's will, but Satan evidently kept Paul from returning to visit the Thessalonians.

The other verse I want to touch on is verse 20, "Indeed, you (the Thessalonians) are our glory and joy." The ultimate reward is not money, prestige, or fame, but bringing new people into a relationship with Jesus Christ. No matter what ministry God is calling you to be a part of, your highest reward and greatest joy should be those who come to believe in Christ and are growing in Him. Remember, God's highest priority is people. The heavens are His, the stars, moon, and sun were made by Him, and the mountains and oceans are His handiwork - but people are His pride and treasure. If people are God's pride and treasure shouldn't they be ours too?

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

1 Thessalonians 1: 1-10

Daily Devotional – Tuesday May 9 2006
Thessalonians 1- 10

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

Paul had many difficult letters to write. Many letters, where he had to scold and chastise in the name of the Lord. This letter to the Thessalonians must have been a pleasure for him to write. It is a clear letter of commendation and encouragement. It must also have been a great comfort to its readers to know that their work in Macedonia was recognized and that God was blessing their efforts. Paul speaks of affliction, so they are reassured that their suffering was not for nothing.

Paul speaks of the fact that the Thessalonians “had been chosen by God”. Wow! To have your work and life chosen by God. Isn’t this something we all want deep down? They have responded to the teaching they had received. They acted on it. But God’s work didn’t end there. It grew and spread. The word of God being passed from person to person. The good news that a life saver was there for all who listened and believed. People did believe and they told others.

I have always marveled at just how fast the early church grew. The bible speaks of thousands of new believers in single days. People who turned from the comfortable and familiar religions of their parents to this new idea of a simple wood worker who was the Son of God and had died to save their souls. Not only did they change their belief but they were persecuted for doing it. The power of the Holy Spirit overcoming fear. No wonder Paul said they had been chosen and praised their success.

I believe God expects nothing less of us today. It is a very different world we live in but our human spiritual needs have not changed. We can also be comforted by the knowledge that we have all been chosen. Jesus has chosen me and you and he waits for us to join him for eternity.

AMEN

John Dickie, May 9, 2006

Monday, May 08, 2006

Colossians 3:18 - 4:18

Writing from imprisonment, probably in Rome around 60 A.D., Paul corresponded with the Christian community in Colossae, a city in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). He wrote to address false teachings that had corrosive and divisive effects on faithful belief and lifestyle among the Colossian Christians.

In countering those teachings, Paul ranged from the deeply theological to the highly practical. The movement from theological (belief) to practical (lifestyle) hinged on the profound transition from “died with Christ” (Col. 2:30) to “raised with Christ” (Col. 3:1). Once Paul swung the door open on this hinge, he pushed his readers through it to inhabit the “brave new world” of life in Christ, with all its concrete qualities and behaviors. Therefore, Paul urged, because of death and resurrection in Christ, put to death the old lifestyle (Col. 3:5) and put on the new (Col. 3:10 and 3:12).

Reading Colossians 3 to 4, we should note how much the wrongs of the old lifestyle are relational. Correspondingly, the virtues of the new lifestyle are also relational. Suffusing the qualities and behaviors of this new life are Christ’s peace and love. Through the Spirit, Christ acts to form his followers into one organic body characterized by peace and love. Thus they are to become practitioners of peace and love anywhere and everywhere.

It is on this basis that we should understand the practical counsel, rooted in death and resurrection, to those in certain relationships common in Colossae: wives and husbands; children and parents; slaves and masters. The key to reading this counsel is not to ask how Paul might have called for each relationship to be utterly restructured and perhaps even cast aside. The key is to understand how Paul urged each party to live Christ’s peace and love toward the other party (perhaps especially if the other in the relationship is not a follower of Jesus, as one commentator suggests).

Jesus does not call us to change how others treat us. He calls us to change how we treat them. If we act in peace and love toward others, this may lead to radical restructuring of a relationship. Yet whether it does or not, Jesus has thus already inaugurated what is in a sinful world the most radical revolution of all – namely, our transformation from self-centeredness to other-centeredness. Then we shall see how truly and deeply any and all of our relationships change!

Gregory Strong

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Colossians 3:1-17

I had the rare opportunity this week to have dinner alone with my oldest son at a local Chinese restaurant. While waited for our food, we talked about his confirmation the previous Sunday. He was now a full fledged member of the church. I asked him if he felt any different now that he was confirmed. He said “no, not really mom but there is so much to learn about God and that is going to take a really long time but I need to know him if I am going to do his work.” We talked about what it means to know God and different ways we can learn about him. That dinner was a gift because I caught a glimpse of the depth of love God has for my son John and for each of us. Today’s reading remind me we are all beloved by God, even the most unlovable, and we are fellow students in this Christian walk that promises to transform and renew not only the lives of Christians but the whole world. What a difference we could make if we took seriously Paul’s exhortations to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience and to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. When a Christian community chooses to wear these clothes instead of the latest designer jeans, there is room in the closet for forgiveness. When we are reconciled to each other, we become more concerned with the needs of others rather than fulfilling our own desires for more. We live out Christ’s peace in community and it is reflected in all our relationships and the quality of our worship. In community and worship, the Gospel is proclaimed and we are formed and shaped to be the holy people God calls us to be. In worship, we encounter the word of Christ and receive the unmerited love of God that liberates us from preoccupation with ourselves. In worship we are moved to offer God praise in a spirit of thankfulness, for all God has done in Christ. So this day let us take the words of the apostle Paul to heart and be students of the word of God, and teach and admonish each other in wisdom that Christ may dwell in each of us and transform us in ways we never thought possible. ……..AMR

Friday, May 05, 2006

Colossians 2:8-23

This is a passage in which Paul reminds his readers of the Supremacy of Christ (the church at Colasse had encountered some heresies) and what Christ had done for them. As I read it I remembered some like passages in Acts which the Lectionary covered this winter. I was reminded of how I had been struck then by Paul’s earnest devotion to his readers and his repetition of this theme, “all you need is Jesus.” For me it was like remember how friends encourage me and I had to smile. Perhaps that is part of what we do as a church and the benefit of encouraging each other in the disciplines of prayer, Scripture, and fasting, as many youth group members are doing now; we remind each other, “all you need is Jesus.”

Can you think of a time when you’ve been embarrassed? Fallen down at the bus stop or forgotten someone’s name? Worn your clothes inside out or forgotten a piece of clothing? Paul here reminds us that Jesus has absolutely humiliated the powers of darkness. Sure, being crucified is humiliating, but Paul says that Jesus by his cross crushed his dark opponents. This is a military illustration which Paul uses; his readers were familiar with the sight of Roman generals stripping their conquered opponents of their weapons-and clothes, and marching them through the city streets, making a “public spectacle” of them (v 16).

As we go about our tasks today, how would Paul say we react to this reminder of God’s goodness? Verse 7 is a great summary, “rooted, strengthened, and overflowing”- rooted in Him, strengthened in the faith, and overflowing with thankfulness. Paul says, we’ve heard so much good news that our lives can overflow with thanks to God. Thank you, Jesus.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Colossians 1:24-2:7

Verse 24 of today’s reading contains one of the most debated phrases in the whole Bible. What does Paul mean when he writes, “… in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” What could possibly be lacing in Christ’s afflictions?!

Clearly, Paul is not talking about adding anything to Christ’s death once and for all for our sins (called the Atonement). That is the central theme of the book of Colossians; the complete sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work.

Equally clearly, this verse suggests there is a profound link between the suffering of the Church and the suffering of Christ. When the Church suffers, Jesus suffers. On this there is complete agreement.

And perhaps that is enough. When the Church is faithful to Jesus, it often finds itself at odds with the world. That causes suffering for the Church even as it did for Jesus. Sometime being faithful to Jesus means being willing to join the suffering of others, even as Jesus joined in our suffering.

The point is that the Church, the body of Christ, still has a lot of suffering to undergo until that day when Jesus comes again and establishes a new Heaven and a new Earth in which the Kingdom of God fully reigns. Paul is saying that he is not only willing but glad to do his part, to accept his share of the pain in working to bring Heaven to a world that too often is bent on going to Hell. He is glad not because he likes pain, but because he knows the good God will bring from it. And all of this only serves to draw him closer to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

What about us? How are we doing entering into in the suffering that so marks our world--the kind of suffering Christ takes on? How are we doing at welcoming the chance to take our share in the church's part of that suffering? (These questions are a paraphrase of how the Message translates this verse.)

Whether it’s helping with Hurricane Katrina (a call to enter into Christ’s suffering if there ever was one) or helping the homeless; whether it’s delivering food through LINK (our local food pantry) or doing other acts of kindness; whether it’s teen moms or broken homes or struggling kids or whatever it is—what are we doing in the service of Christ that literally, in a very real way, links us to our Lord as we share with him his sufferings?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Colossians 1:15-23

I feel today's reading is one of the strongest statements that Jesus Christ is in fact God found in the Bible. If you have not read it yet, please take a moment to do so.

The fact that Jesus was in fact God, is a key element of the Christian faith. We must believe in the deity of Jesus or our Christian faith is hollow, misaligned, and without meaning. We must know in our hearts that Jesus is the visible manifestation of God, our eternal creator, and our reconciler who has supremacy in the universe and the Church. As Christians we must oppose those who state that Jesus was merely a prophet or a good teacher.

These verses also relay another important Christian belief. No one is good enough to save him or herself. If we want to live eternally with Christ in heaven, we must depend totally on God's grace. It does not matter if we are criminals or good law abiding citizens, we have all sinned repeatedly. Our sins are forgiven by the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for us on Good Friday. We must accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior to have our sins forgiven and to receive eternal life.

When a judge in a court of law declares a defendant not guilty, the defendant has been acquitted of all charges. Legally it is as if he or she was never charged with the offense in the first place. The record is wiped clean. When God forgives our sins, our record is wiped clean too. It is as if we never committed the sin in the first place. This outcome is available to anybody. No matter what any of us has done or what kind of life we have led, God's forgiveness is available for all of us and if we truly seek it we will find it.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Matthew 3, 7-12

Daily Devotional – Tuesday May 2 2006
Matthew 3. 7-12

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

I have always found today’s reading difficult to deal with. The passage is short and to the point. It is almost too direct and to the point. John The Baptist was not a subtle man. He had something to say, he said it and he said it loud.

John had established a reputation as a prophet and holy man. People came in great numbers to be baptized by him. God was evidently using him in a very powerful way. He must have been changing lives and giving people something they wanted and needed.

This is what I find disturbing. A group of Pharisses and Shad’ducees come to John to be baptized. To them John is not the typical loving, caring “holy” man we would expect. Quite the opposite. He derides and challenges them. He accuses them of being vipers or people that poison others. They think that their “club membership” as the sons of Abraham will save them. John says to them that only the trees that produce good fruit will survive and prosper. They will be judged by their acts not by their club membership. I need to be constantly being reminded of this. Attending Saint Matthews and taking communion on a regular basis will not guarantee me a place in heaven with the father. I will be judged by how I live in the world not in Church.

John can only offer advice in his very straight forward and offensive manner. He that comes after him (Jesus) will not just give advice but will change their lives through the intervention of the Holy Spirit and they will be on fire. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that empowers me to live in the world as a true follower of Christ.

This passage disturbs because it challenges the typical view as Christians as those who do not judge and accept and love others as they are and forgive them. John sure wasn’t doing this in this passage. Ah! On second thought; maybe he was. Maybe this was the only way he had to communicate with them and he did it out of love and because he cared about them.
Yes maybe!

AMEN

John Dickie, May 2, 2006

Monday, May 01, 2006

1 Peter 5:1-14

In the early 60s A.D., approximately thirty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Peter wrote this letter for the church communities in Asia Minor (modern western Turkey). In general, he wrote to encourage followers of Jesus. Hence at the end of his letter, to strengthen them in faith and life, Peter repeated certain themes elaborated in previous passages: suffering; steadfastness; and glory.

As Peter stirringly exclaimed at the beginning of his letter, God in great mercy has given the followers of Jesus new life. The re-creation of the world has begun in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and we begin to experience the stupendous gift of living in this glorious existence now, with forever the only horizon. Thus God sows hope that surges in our hearts and in our Spirit-sprung communities.

Yet not all people and powers in this world welcome God’s good news in Jesus. Jesus suffered and died because of this, as Peter reminded his readers. Consequently, Peter went on, those who faithfully live Jesus in the world may also suffer and perhaps even die because of opposition to Jesus.

Nevertheless, God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead. God also vindicates followers of Jesus by giving them new life in the resurrection of Jesus – both here and now, and in the new heaven and earth to come. The day of glory has begun, continues to strengthen, and will, in God’s good time, saturate all of existence forever. We know it now truly. We will know it then fully.

Therefore, we are to be steadfast. Amid skepticism and disbelief, we are to hold fast to the truth of God’s good news in Jesus. Amid opposition and hostility, we are to pursue, as individuals and as communities, the qualities and behaviors of the kingdom of God, rooted in all-pervasive love for God and our neighbor.

Living all of this together – suffering, steadfastness, glory – can be difficult. Yet we can take heart from Peter’s long-ago letter of encouragement – take heart that God’s glory does indeed precede, infuse, and await us, even if now we suffer for the sake of Jesus.

Gregory Strong