Friday, June 30, 2006

Romans 5:12-21

In this passage Paul contrasts the death which we received from Adam and the life which we receive from Christ. Death is separation, and separation is painful. Physical death means a tough separation from those we love, but spiritual death means separation from God.

Last week I went to visit my mother, age 89, and also saw several friends from high school whom I only see once a year. These friends and family members and I care about each other but must be separated by distance. Separations may be painful for many different reasons. Perhaps the friendships suffer from hurt or just from neglect. We loose touch with people with whom we were once close. Now that it’s summer we think back to childhood summers and wonder where our playmates are now.

Paul reminds his readers that we, all of us, were separated from God. An impossible distance separated us. But because of the work of Christ; Paul says that sin (and the separation from God it brings) “doesn’t have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace” (verse 20, 21, The Message).

Sometimes, in this life, we are graced with reunions. Time and distance fall away and we can enjoy more summer days together. But the best reunion we are enjoying now. We have God. Paul explains in this passage how though Adam’s acts brought us death and separation, Christ’s work on the cross brought us life and eternal reunion with God. Thank you, Jesus.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Romans 5:1-11

Our passage today begins with the word, “Therefore,” pointing backwards to everything Paul has said so far in Romans. Therefore--in light of our sinfulness and the consequences it has for our lives that we are unable to make right on our own; in light of the fact that God still forgives and redeems us, offering us the free gift of salvation not because we deserve it, earn it, or have worked hard for it, but simply because of the goodness of God's grace -- therefore in light of all this we enjoy the benefits listed in the following verses from living the life of faith.

One of those benefits is peace with God. And when we have peace with God we have access to God and He has access to us. We can go to him for strength to stand and He pours his love into our hearts. That’s a winning combination that let’s us face whatever life throws at us and find a way through it where we come out better than when we went in. Think about that a moment. Do you believe it?

I’m not being simplistic or na├»ve here. Life can be, and sometimes is, incredibly difficult and painful. Some situations are so heart breaking we just can’t imagine anything good about them at all. I don’t see any way around that.

But the promise of these verses is that in spite of all that, God will bring us through—scarred, maybe, a bit battered and beat-up perhaps—but not beaten. He will bring us through. Even more than that, God will be at work in us through hard times, using them to develop our character so that we are more like Him.

And that gives us hope, because we don't look at the passing problem but at how the problem can build something in our lives that will last forever: integrity, patience, the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, meekness, self control), the very characteristics that marked the life of Christ.

So, then, as we allow God to work in us, even in the difficult times, we receive benefits such as peace with God, access to God, the ability to rejoice because we have a hope to hold onto, and the perseverance that comes when we know even our problems have a purpose--that God can and will redeem even the worst things that happen to us in life if we’ll let Him.

Sometimes the Bible faces us with hard questions and great challenges for living. But today, I think these verses are simply meant to encourage us. As trite as it may sound, whatever you and I are going through, God is still in control, is still at work, is still achieving His good purpose.

Take heart, dear friends. Take heart.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Romans 4:13-25

Today's message is a powerful one regarding faith. Remember that Paul is writing this letter to discuss that one is given salvation through grace simply by believing in Jesus Christ - by having faith in God's love and His grace. One does not, and cannot, earn salvation by following the law as written in the first five books of the Bible as no one is flawless enough to follow the law perfectly.

In verse 16 Paul writes, "Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring..." Paul explains that Abraham had pleased God through his faith alone (and Abraham lived before the law was given to Moses). We, too, are saved by faith. It is not by doing good deeds that we are saved, it is by faith in Christ. Having the faith to trust Jesus Christ to forgive our sins and grant us grace.

Let's take a look at the faith Abraham displayed. Abraham who was childless and almost 100 years old was given a promise by God that he would be the father of many nations. Abraham believed God and believed that God was powerful enough to do what He said. This is true faith. Faith is living in what God has said to you and not living only in what you can see. When God makes you or me a promise, God's word is a certainty. We do not need to get our calculator out or do high order mathematics to try to figure out how God is going to accomplish His promise. When God tells you something or makes you a promise it will be done. Our belief that it will be done, and our willingness to put that belief into practice, is faith.

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

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

romans 4:1-12

Daily Devotional – Tuesday June 27
Romans 1:4-12

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

May the Lord bless you today with sunshine now that he has watered your garden in abundance?

Paul continues to challenge his Roman Jewish community with a very interesting question. Is a great man great because of his deeds or is he great because of who he is? At least that is how the question comes to me. Paul uses Abraham to illustrate his question. The Roman church would all agree that Abraham was a great man and through his actions created an ancestry of people faithful to the One God. Again, did God bless Abraham because of what he did or did he bless him in recognizing his faith?

I was taught while very young that good intentions will yield good results that bring reward. Where do good intentions come from? For most of my life, my “it’s all about Me” motivation was the origin of good intentions. Consciously or not I was looking for some form of reward. The reward may only have been recognition or praise. As I have aged and matured I have come to realize that God has always loved me; even when I was not very loveable. When in union with God, one’s good intentions and righteousness come from knowing God’s love and needing to express that love through action. Good deeds go from being payment in anticipation of reward to payment for the reward that has already been given.

As I listen to the thunder and hear the rain I witness God’s blessings all around me. I am thankful for the Grace of God. The great gift of Jesus that I have not and never will earn. May God continue to bless me with his grace so I may repay him however I can.

AMEN

John Dickie, June 27, 2006

Monday, June 26, 2006

Romans 3:21-31

This passage in Paul’s letter to the Romans is but a part of his long, involved discussion of law and faith. The specific context lies in questions in the early church about the status of Jewish and Gentile Christians before God. Did the ceremonial and moral laws of the Jewish Scriptures (for Christians, our Old Testament) give the Jewish people a privileged status and right relationship with God, if they scrupulously obeyed those laws? Did Jewish Christians similarly gain a privileged and right relationship with God through both faith in Jesus and observance of the laws? Did Gentile Christians have to put their faith in Jesus and keep the laws to have a good and right relationship with God?

While that precise context with its questions may not be immediate for many of us today, the more basic matrix behind it does apply. Must we earn our relationship with God? Can we earn our relationship with God? We cannot consider these questions in depth here. We can, however, identify and take to heart three relevant principles threading through this particular passage and through Paul’s longer discussion in Romans.

1. All are in the same position before God: we are all sinful. We fall short of God’s glory and the creaturely good he intended us to inhabit. We have cut ourselves off from God and from what God wants us to be. Hence, not one of us lives perfectly and fully into that good.

2. All can be saved from our sinful, cut-off plight through Jesus. God has not abandoned us, though we have abandoned him. In great love and mercy, God sent Jesus to rescue us. Jesus, through his death and resurrection, reconciles and restores us to God.

3. All can experience this salvation through faith in Jesus, not through ceremonial or moral performance. We do not, indeed cannot, earn what comes only as God’s gift: namely, life in Jesus.* We receive this gift, both humbling and heartening at once, through faith – where faith is our whole-self posture of trusting Jesus utterly and solely for life and love.

This is good news beyond our deepest despair or boldest imagining – life with God through faith in Jesus! This is what threads throughout Paul’s examination of law and faith in Romans. This is what we stand and thrive upon, as individual believers and as the community of Jesus-followers.

Gregory Strong

* Later in Romans, Paul will focus on how we express our life in Jesus through worship and ethics.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Romans 3:9-20

In today’s reading, Paul makes it very clear that all of us are sinners; Romans and Jews of his time and those of us living today. In verses 10 through 18, Paul describes the lack of character and miserable existence of those without Christ in their lives. William Barclay’s translations helped me better understand the verses: verse 12 “Human nature without Christ is soured and useless” and verse 16 “Destruction and wretchedness are in their ways”. Eugene Peterson’s The Message sums it up by saying we are all in the same sinking boat. After this grim description, Paul tells us that we can’t earn our salvation by following the law.

I always thought that I “had” to do a lot of things like studying the Bible, Sunday school classes, prayer time, etc. In a way, I was trying to “follow the law”. But, in many cases, these things felt like chores. As my relationship with Christ slowly grows, I'm finding that some of these things aren’t as hard anymore. For example, reading the Bible isn’t just reading words anymore; I’m finding meaning in those words. I know I’m not there yet and it’s very comforting to know that I don’t have to rely on my efforts.

What this reading says to me is that only through Jesus’ sacrifice do I have the opportunity to accept the gift of forgiveness and a very personal and living relationship with God. Through God’s grace, we don't have to wear ourselves out trying to do it all on our own. He loves us as we are and, as our relationships with Him grow stronger, we will be changed. As Paul says in verse 20, we will become aware of sin; personal sin and sin in the world. We will also awaken to how very much we all need God’s forgiveness and love and of just how big His love really is.

Paul was writing to the Romans so very long ago and yet his teachings still have so much meaning for all of us.

Sue Reier

Friday, June 23, 2006

Romans 2:25-3:8

I have confessed before that I am no theologian or biblical scholar. These verses from Romans frankly reminded me of the first time I tried to figure out circular logic in an Excel spreadsheet – I was dizzy to say the least. But, Paul wrote very carefully. The seemingly esoteric and convoluted writings of Paul were purpose-driven (not in the vernacular of Rick Warren). Paul had not yet been to Rome, as Greg Strong pointed out on Monday. But, he wanted to present a letter to the Roman church which would be his introduction to a very well-planned and rehearsed ministry that Paul wanted to fulfill when he would finally get to Rome.

One of Paul’s theological themes in his letter is that everyone is a sinner – Jew and Gentile. Paul is trying to illustrate how true Christ-followers are freed from sin, law and death. At the same time, there is a place for Jewish laws and customs. Paul uses circumcision in the examples in these verses. In today’s words, Paul is saying that the ends do not justify the means. Christianity does not work that way. To be a true Christian, the ends and the means are the same thing (i.e., “let us do evil that good may result” is condemned). Being circumsized does not make one a faithful Jew. As Paul says, one must be “circumsized of the heart”. There is some powerful imagery in that statement! Obviously, Paul is talking about the work of the Holy Spirit within each of us. This is the basic point of these verses – the outward and physical versus the inward, spiritual aspects of Judaism and Christianity.

So what does this mean to us, today? Live outwardly as you live inwardly. Don’t be a silent Christian. Don’t justify the means to get to your “end”. Just live in the love of Christ and share it with as many people as you can.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Romans 2:12-24

To read this passage and apply it faithfully to our lives takes a lot of courage, I think. The gist of it seems to be that it is not possession of the law that matters to God, but the practice of it.

When we take that principle and expand it a bit to include God’s special revelation throughout His Word, the application to us becomes clear: It is not possession of Scripture (or the truths, passages, or doctrines therein) that matters to God), but the practice of it.

Claiming to possess Scripture without practicing what it teaches, has the same result as when Jew’s claimed to observe the law without being faithful to the Spirit behind it: God is blasphemed among those who do not believe. In the double standards they rightly observe, people find reason to justify their irreverence.

In the larger context of the book of Romans, this passage shows how even religious people have sinned and are in need of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ. Remembering that all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory keeps us from being self-righteous and smug. It reminds us of Jesus’ words that we are to remove the log from our own eye before we try to remove a speck from anybody else’s. It keeps us from becoming arrogant.

It is awfully hard to own up to all that is wrong with us, and how badly damaged we are. It is awfully hard to admit our own faults and failings—the ones that really are hurtful, destructive and damaging. The result is that it is often easier to dwell on the problems of others than to face our own.

But that is precisely what we must do, because—as the Bible so clearly proclaims—it is when we are weak that Christ’s power is most clearly at work within us. It is only in being aware of the magnitude of the grace extended to us that we become gracious with others. It is only in realizing how deeply we are loved—and a what cost!—that we love God with our heart, mind and strength, and come to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Romans 1:28-2:11

I really like Paul's message in chapter 2 of today's reading. It strikes me as particularly pertinent to today and today's lifestyle. Come to think of it, it seems pertinent to every generation. I would call it a universal truth.

I can just image that when Paul's letter to the Roman church was read to the congregation there were many heads nodding up and down in agreement. In this letter Paul condemns idol worshipers, homosexual practices, and violent people. However, what I am sure surprised many of his listeners, and would surprise many of us today, is when he turned on them and said in effect, you have no reason to gloat or feel superior as you are just as much a sinner.

Paul stresses over and over again that no one is good enough to earn a place in heaven for him or herself. If we want to avoid punishment and live eternally with Christ, all of us, whether we have been murders or thieves or whether we have been honest, hardworking, solid citizens, must depend on God's grace for our entry into heaven. Paul clearly is saying that any sin is enough to make us depend on Jesus Christ for salvation and eternal life. Thus, Paul is also saying that one cannot qualify one sin as worse than another. The unfortunate truth is we have all sinned repeatedly, and there is no way to the Father and heaven except through Jesus Christ.

When one realizes this fact, one realizes what an awesome gift Jesus gave each of us. One realizes what grace truly is. One realizes how lucky we are to have such a loving heavenly Father that would have His son pay the price for our sin. I hope this is inspirational to all of us and makes us want to live a life according to God's will and not our own. I know it inspires me, faults and all, to try to live the next day better than the last.

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

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Romans 1:16-25

Daily Devotional – Tuesday June 20 Romans 1:16-25

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

Greetings to you dear reader on this Father’s Day. May God bless you and bless what you do today. To be recognized and loved by the people you love is a truly wonderful thing. I love Fathers Day. I have a 91 year old Father and I just called him to wish him well. I had to call 3 times before I caught him home. He and my 90 year old mother were out to dinner at a restaurant. I wonder if I will be at a restaurant on Fathers Day when I am 91. It is in God’s hands.

What has this got to do with today’s reading? Not much really other than we all want to be recognized. I am sure the Roman church were very encouraged and strengthened by Paul’s letter. He knows their conditions and his words of recognition would be very much appreciated. Paul is very anxious to visit Rome and speak to them directly. He wants to confirm the Gospel and to reinforce the power of the Gospel. He knows their faith needs to be strengthened.

Paul knows they are persecuted by men who deny God and the Good News offered to them through Jesus Christ. The proof of God’s reality and his Power is all around them yet they deny. These pagans turned God into images of people or animals so they could exercise control over them. Paul is anxious to help the Roman church to confirm the Power of the Gospel. He does not name Jesus directly in this passage but focuses on God the Father and the Power of the Gospel.

I am sure the faith of the Romans was stronger after receiving this letter just as our spirits are strengthened by the recognition we receive from people we care about on special days like Fathers day.

AMEN

John Dickie, June 19, 2006

Monday, June 19, 2006

Romans 1:1-15

About twenty five years before Paul wrote this letter, Jesus was crucified outside of Jerusalem by Roman authorities with the consent of Jewish leaders. In the intervening period a Christian community arose in Rome. The time was now the middle 50s A.D., with a young Nero in his first years as emperor of the Roman empire.

When Paul wrote, he had never visited Rome. He certainly had not founded the church in Rome. Why then did Paul write? He, like other Christians around the Mediterranean, had heard of the faithfulness of Christians in Rome. He wrote to express his care for them and desire to see them. He also wrote to explain in some detail God’s good news in Jesus, the relationship of the Jewish people and Gentiles to God and to each other, and the ethical implications of being a follower of Jesus. Worthy of deep and prayerful study, this letter engages both our hearts and our minds.

With today’s passage, we begin to read extensively in Romans. This opening section consists of Paul’s introduction. It includes a greeting, commendation of the believers in Rome, Paul’s credentials as an apostle, and reasons for his writing. It also includes certain fundamental assertions about Jesus and our relationship to Jesus.

We should take special note of these assertions. From familiarity with church history and our life in the church, we may miss how striking they are, especially in original context. At the outset of this letter Paul reminded the Christians in Rome who really is the ruler of the world – of empires, nations, and people. Jesus is the Son of God and the Lord – not the emperor. Believers belong to Jesus – not to the Roman empire.

Questions of allegiance and identity are basic to life. They are certainly basic to Christian life. As Bob Dylan sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.” At the outset of this letter, Paul makes clear that we serve Jesus. Our allegiance is to Jesus; our identity (our belonging) is formed in Jesus. Yes, we live in nations and societies of the world. Yes, they assert their claim on us. Yet, as we have been baptized into Jesus’ death and reborn in his resurrection, our hearts, our minds, our very lives belong to him first and last. May we let Jesus, not the world around us, shape our allegiance and identity deeply, fully, visibly.

Gregory Strong

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Galatians 6:11-18

Paul’s concluding remarks reemphasize his main point to the Galations: They must reject the teachings of those who insist on the observance of ceremonial law and ritual in order to be saved.

Paul uses himself as an example of what is truly important. My favorite translation, from the Message (Galations 6:14 – 15), shows Paul’s passion: “For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the Cross of our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate. Can’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do – submit to circumcision, reject circumcision. It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life!”
Paul’s eyes are fixed on the cross. He is free to live for God, to let God transform him into someone filled with new life – a life of the Spirit.

I love the idea of living such a life. If I can just center myself in front of the cross, if I can just keep my focus on Jesus, if I sincerely believe that His grace is sufficient, if I can just let go, if I can just let go, if I can just let go...

I remember when I was first learning how to drive. I worried about everything. Was the car too close to the dividing line on the road or too close to the shoulder? Was I supposed to look at the hood of the car or at the dividing line? Finally, Dad told me to keep my focus straight ahead, well beyond the hood of the car, and not to worry about anything else. That worked. I just needed to let go of the things that weren’t importing to driving a car successfully.

Heavenly Father, through your grace, may we let go of the incidentals. May we surrender ourselves to the new life of the Spirit, so that we, like Paul, may get on with “the serious living of this faith.” Amen.

Martha Olson

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Galatians 5:16-24

Today’s passage contains what is called a “vice list”. Verses 19-21 list behaviors that are incompatible with the free life of the Spirit; behaviors that, if they come to characterize our lives, will make it impossible for us to experience the kingdom of God.

Much of the list deals with what we in our day call a lack of “impulse control”. In other words, we are controlled by our impulses; in bondage to our desires. In contrast, the life of the Spirit creates self control, giving us by the grace of God the power to live above our compulsions, cravings, and addictions. Only then can we enjoy the freedom that is the Spirit’s gift.

I remember hearing a man talk about financial freedom some years ago. He never made much money (the forms of Christian service to which he gave his life were not lucrative), and most of what he made he gave away. But, by living simply—above his desires—he had still managed to care for his family, pay off his house, retire all his debts. He had also saved a modest amount, but because he lived simply a modest amount was all he needed.

I also remember that in a parking lot full of expensive cars, he was driving an old beater.

By God’s grace, and in faithfulness to His leading, this man was completely free. As I listened to him talk, I realized what an incredible thing that was. I saw so clearly how the way of life he had chosen—the way of life God offers—is so far superior to the life of a world built on obsession with consuming and acquiring.

He could do literally do whatever he wanted, which for him meant being free to respond to God’s call. He could give with stunning generosity. He had no anxiety or financial stress.

How are you doing with the things listed here? How am I? Are your impulses under control? Are mine? Is a lack of impulse control damaging our relationships, so that we find ourselves envious, regularly angry, at odds with others in our homes and our churches? Are our lives marked by frustration and hard feelings rather than by joy? Is there resentment or competition or complaining rather than love?

Crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires is not easy. But it is good, and—despite a world that often tells us differently—well worth it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Galatians 5:1-15

This is an interesting reading today. In verse 1, Paul states that Christian freedom is the right and privilege of every believer. Paul indicates that Christ died to set us free from sin and from a long list of laws and regulations - Christ died to set us free from slavery to the law. Paul urges us not to return to the law as to gain salvation from following the law one would have to follow it perfectly (and of course this is impossible as we are all human and subject to human flaws).

In verses 2 through 12, as I see it, Paul states six negative consequences for those who return to the law for salvation. The first is it invalidates Christ's work on the cross, "Christ will have no value to you."

The second negative consequence of returning to the law is obligation. Once a person submits to one part of the law (e.g., circumcision), that person is, "obligated to obey the whole law."

Third, it removes a person from the sphere of grace. A person trying to obtain salvation by deeds can never be sure if he or she has done enough. The Christian is secure because of the faith he or she has in Christ.

Fourth, it hinders spiritual growth. For this point Paul uses two metaphors - a race and yeast in dough. Both indicating it is easy to be taken off course when one try's to earn salvation.

Fifth, it removes the "offense of the cross". Persecution proved that Paul was preaching the true gospel. If he had taught what false teachers were teaching no one would be offended. Jesus said do not be surprised if the world hates you because it hated Him. Just as Paul continued to faithfully proclaim the gospel, we should continue doing the ministry God has given us to do in spite of obstacles others may put in our way.

The sixth and final consequence of turning to the law is anger. Paul shows his anger in verse 12.

In the final three verses of today's reading, Paul distinguishes between freedom to sin and freedom to serve. Freedom, or license, to sin is no freedom at all because it bonds us to Satan. Christians should not be slaves to sin because we are free to do right and to glorify God through loving service to others.

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

galations 4:21 - 31

Daily Devotional – Tuesday June 13 2006
Galations 4:21 - 31

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

Today, Paul continues his teaching to the community in Galatia. He uses an allegory to illustrate his point. I must admit that I had to read it a few times to get his point. Paul is going back to our Jewish origins and tells the familiar story of Abraham’s 2 sons. He extends the allegory to include Jerusalem as being in slavery as was Hagar and her son. However the Jerusalem “above” is free. He introduces the reality that through Jesus Christ we are children of the free Jersalem and that we are born of the spirit and not of the flesh.

If we are free, what are we free from? Each of us will have our own answer based on our own experience and where we are on our Christian journey. Paul was speaking directly to freedom from the strict Jewish laws that shaped their daily life. To me these laws are a negative motivator since they believe that bad things will happen if the Law is not followed.

Jesus Christ has given us a positive motivation and this is the freedom that I feel as a Christian. We have the freedom to be a witness of the love and charity of God to those around us and to show this through our behaviour. This does not mean that we can set our own standards of morality and can ignore the social rules that govern us. Christ has given us clear standards to live by in this regard and these are consistent with a loving and careing Christian lfe style. Through the teachings of Jesus and the Holy Spirit that connects us, we are driven by Love not Fear. That is the freedom we have. Thanks be to God!

AMEN

John Dickie, June 13 2006

Monday, June 12, 2006

Galatians 4:12-20

As we have seen, Paul wrote to Christians in Galatia to counter erroneous ideas about salvation in Jesus. Certain Jewish Christians had taught that Gentile Christians, in addition to faith in Jesus, had to fulfill Old Testament ceremonial law and ritual to be saved. Paul knew this teaching did not come from God. It did not represent true good news.

Paul expressed himself with vigor. (Compare, for example, chapter 3, verse 1.) We see a similar vigor in today’s passage. He pleaded with the Galatian Christians to imitate him in giving themselves to him as he had given himself to them. He employed vivid imagery to depict their former devotion to him and his to them. (Compare references to tearing out eyes and giving birth.) The purpose in what Paul wrote was to achieve their reconciliation with him, rejection of erroneous beliefs, and return to the true gospel of salvation in Jesus.

This could easily be seen as Paul’s simply trying to make them over in his own image. Probably we are all disposed to this to some extent. (This is certainly a strong tendency in me.) Too much do we want to make others over in the mold of ourselves, especially those close to us when their perspectives, tastes, and habits differ from ours in significant ways.

Yet what makes this passage something other than Paul’s merely trying to mold people into his own image is the focus of what he wants for his beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. We find this focus in his evocative phrase: “until Christ is formed in you.” Paul was clear. Jesus Christ, not Paul or anyone or anything else, is the model of true and good life, the measure of being a true and good person.

Christ formed in us. It is a notion worthy of much reflection and prayer. The idea, at least in part, is that the inner core of our selves and the visible shape of our lives would conceive and grow in true and intrinsic resemblance to the person and life of Jesus Christ. Then in the mirror in the morning, we would see Jesus. And when we turn to face the day and the world, as we must, others would also see Jesus.

May this be our desire for ourselves and for those we love: that Christ, not someone or something else, be formed in us, truly, deeply, and visibly.

Gregory Strong

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Galatians 3:23 - 4:11

A fellow I know from work, Scott, is going to become a father some time in the next month. When the call comes, he and his wife are going to fly to China and meet, spend time with, and then bring home to Northern Virginia their first child.

Scott's life is going to change, in ways that all of us who are parents can readily identify with. But somewhere in China today there is a little boy whose life is going to change in ways that he cannot even imagine. Apart from the love he will get from his new parents, he will be growing up with a comfortable lifestyle and amazing opportunities--education and technology-driven to be sure.

But above all, that little boy will be introduced, at an early age, to the Son of God. And that is where he, the Galatians, and all of us who bear the name of Christ find our common ground.

We had a former life, a life in which we experienced perhaps some good things. But there was another life waiting for us in another realm, a life which offered transcendent things, things beyond all power to purchase or purloin. And that Life took hold of us, and made us a promise for now and a promise for eternity. And as far above and beyond as that Person is, He is as close and huggable as, and answers to that ancient, child's word for Daddy, "Abba".

Thanks be to God for our adoption into His Son's inheritance. May it surpass our dreams altogether. Amen.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Galations 3:15-22

I’m sure glad that Greg Strong writes his devotional before I write mine. (His devotional was last Monday so you may want to revisit it before you read mine.) I learn a great deal from his devotional and it is really a great lead in to today’s reading.

In this passage, Paul is making the point that the law is separate and distinct from the promise. Greg gives a great historical perspective on what is going on in this Chapter of Galatians. These new Christians are stuck in their old ways – that is, living the laws that have been handed down to them through the generations. These laws were from God, as told to the various Prophets. It was necessary to have these laws in order to set the stage for Christ’s coming. It provided the framework to enable the Israelites to accept Christianity.

It certainly was not an easy transition for these new Christians to stop viewing their laws as the be-all of life, as we can see throughout the Epistles. The idea that one lives by faith and not by laws was very foreign to folks of that time. What Paul really wanted to say to the Galations is “You knuckleheads! Deliverance comes by faith – not by acts. Wasn’t Jesus the ultimate example of this?” In fact, maybe he was saying this but the translators tried to temper Paul’s real emotion. He certainly seems emotional in this Chapter.

Paul’s words, as usual, ring just as true today as they did nearly 2,000 years ago. Don’t be a knucklehead. Live by faith and faith alone and your heart will swell with the love of Jesus.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Galatians 3:1-14

Sometimes I use words that are a little stronger than they need to be. I’m not talking about cursing, but about phrasing things in a way that perhaps overstates my case, that doesn’t leave room for nuance. Generally, I suppose, I do this to discourage discussion and get my own way.

Most the time it doesn’t work. People push back, and I’m glad they do. I rethink not just my words, but often my position and my reasons for pushing it. I feel bad for my impulsiveness, and wish graciousness and humility came more naturally to me. Is that strength or a weakness?

I pose the question because the apostle Paul also uses strong words. I love how the Message translates Galatians 3:1: You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses?

Even I don’t go that far!

Paul goes on to say, Something crazy has happened, for it's obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. And I have to wonder: how clearly are we focused on the crucified Jesus in our lives? How much of our lives rotate around him? How much of our thoughts, our time, our energy, our resources, are used in his service?

My guess is that there is lots of room for improvement. My guess is that Paul might say something very similar to us. Maybe it isn’t working our way to heaven that has bewitched us, but the comfort and complacency of suburbia, all the advantages and activities that are so much a part of our lives here in northern Virginia, the sense of entitlement of our day, the normalcy of having so much and still wanting more.

But I probably won’t ever tell anybody they have been bewitched. I’ll leave that to Paul, who refuses to back down. If anything, he just drives his point all the harder, referring to those who have lost their focus on Christ as “cursed”. Wow.

There is an important word here, but one that I’m often too timid to speak. Thank God Paul is not.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Galatians 2:11-21

Paul opposes Peter. Oh my, two of the greatest leaders of the Christian Church are opposing each other? Is this the first break up of the Christian Church into denominations before it really gets going? It obviously was not, but like all verses in the Bible it gives us insight as to how we should live.

God bless Peter. Peter who makes several mistakes that are documented in the New Testament is a person that can still rise to be the first Pope of the Christian Church. The fact that God can use Peter, with all of his faults (denies Christ three times after the last supper and is reprimanded by Paul in today's verses for supporting division between Jews and Gentiles), in such an important way gives hope to me that God can use me, faults and all, to further His will too.

Let's look at the way Paul reprimands Peter in today's reading. Sometimes sincere Christians, even Christian leaders, make mistakes. It can take other sincere Christians to get these people back on track. Paul shows us how we should confront another believer if we feel they are off base. We should confront that person directly, face to face. There is no place for backstabbing in the body of Christ.

In Paul's confrontation with Peter, verse 16, to me, is so powerful. In it Paul uses the word justified which means to declare righteous. Paul says, "a man is not justified by observing the law." What Paul means by this is justification is by faith in Jesus Christ and not by following the Jewish law. The opponents to this message argue that if people are not following the law then they are free to sin. In other words, someone could say they are a follower of Jesus but then live as they wish. But as we know, and as Father Rob pointed out in his sermon last Sunday, to follow Christ means to live a life that Christ wants us to live. To have full faith in Jesus, one must walk the talk. One must demonstrate the actions of Christ through one's actions.

Paul walks the talk. And fortunately for us, so does Peter most of the time.

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

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Daily Devotional – Tuesday June 5
Galations 1:18 - 2:10

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

May God bless you this day. The message of these 2 letters to the Galations is 14 years apart. I found it interesting that Paul is stating that he was not known after 3 years of preaching the gospel. Why was that important to him? He was known, but not as an individual. He was known only as someone that had persecuted Christ and his followers and now was one of them. I wonder if Paul was offended in any way because of that lack of being recognized on his own right. Did Paul have an ego? As a fellow flawed human, I presume he did. Also by stating that …”I do not lie”, he must have had some concern that people may not believe him. I find it hard to imagine Paul questioning himself and showing lack of self confidence. I am sure he finally concluded that what is really important is that “people glorified God because of him”. Is this what motivated him and kept him going? I think so.

The tone of his letter in Galations 2 is quite different. First it is 14 years later and he is well known. The writing is full of self confidence. He refers to those of “repute” with certain disdain. He is no longer concerned about his own recognition but whether those he preaches to respond to his call. We all want to be recognized don’t we? As one of 5 children my childhood was spent trying to be recognized. My dear wife is an only child and never has struggled with being recognized. While I have struggled in the past to be recognized by others, I have discovered that being recognized by God is the easiest of tasks. When Jesus became real in my life, I established a personal relationship with God through the Holy Spirit with the full knowledge that God knows I am here and he cares about me. Not only does he care, he cares a bunch.

AMEN

John Dickie, June 5, 2006

Monday, June 05, 2006

Galatians 1:1-17

With today’s passage we begin to read Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia, a region in what is now Turkey. He wrote this between about 50 to 55 A.D. It is a great letter, worthy of much study. With emphases on the sufficiency of Jesus to save us from sin, the resulting freedom we experience, and the exercise of that freedom in loving others, this letter has profoundly shaped the hearts and minds of countless Christians.

Why did Paul write this letter? Certain Jewish Christians were roiling the Galatian churches. In contrast to the gospel Paul had received from Jesus, they insisted that Gentile (i.e., non-Jewish) Christians must observe Jewish ceremonial law and ritual (e.g., regulations about meals, observance of holy times, and circumcision). That is, they taught that Gentile Christians, in addition to accepting Jesus, had to follow Jewish requirements to experience salvation.

Paul denounced that perspective. He excoriated those who taught and those who accepted such skewing of the gospel, of the good news of Jesus. In fact Paul rejected it as gospel at all. There is no good news in it. The message of the true gospel, Paul insisted, is good news for at least two key reasons.

One, it comes from God, not from human invention. It is God’s best, incomparably better than our worst, and even our best! The good news of Jesus banks on God’s perfect character and action, not human speculation and imperfection.

Two, it stems from the full sufficiency of Jesus’ death and resurrection to take away our sin and free us for new life. Nothing needs to be added, nor can be added, to what Jesus has accomplished in obeying God and loving us, or to the “requirements” of our response to Jesus. All we need to do and can do is to accept God’s good news in Jesus through trusting love and belief, which is faith.

God perfectly knows and answers our need. In great love and mercy, he sent Jesus to remove our sin and free us for true life. We need no other. Nothing else will do. We just say “Yes!” to Jesus in the core of our being, and he begins to re-create us for transformed and transforming life. This message, and this alone, is good news!

Gregory Strong

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Ephesians 6:10-24

In today’s reading, Paul writes about spiritual warfare and prayer. He tells the community that God will equip and empower them (and us) to face the battle.

The thought of spiritual warfare has always made me uncomfortable. To be honest, I find the thought downright scary; like scary stories about ghosts and ghouls and other things I can’t control and don’t understand. I find the life that I can see, touch, experience (still don’t always understand) to be enough for me to handle. The thought of fighting against “cosmic powers” and “spiritual forces of evil” is overwhelming. But I don’t have to be overwhelmed or scared. As Paul says in verse 10 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power”. God provides us with the armor necessary for the fight. He is almighty and powerful beyond my imagination and He isn’t going to leave me to deal with these forces all on my own.

Another thing Paul talks about is praying in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. Paul even asks for prayer for himself to help him make the gospel known. I don’t think Paul is telling us to spend all of our time in long, perfectly worded, formal prayer. I think he’s telling us to make conversation with God an integral part of our daily life. Formal, written prayers like we find in the Prayer Book as well as short, quick requests while we’re driving on the beltway during rush hour. As with the spiritual warfare, God is the key. Even if I don’t provide him with all the details, pretty words and even a solution, the Spirit knows what needs to be said and will use even my most feeble attempts.

What I take away from this reading, is that God will provide what I need to accomplish the tasks He has planned for me. I need take the time to listen to Him and to move aside my fears and doubts and let Him work through me. God isn’t going to desert me, or any of us, and through Him we can do anything.

Sue Reier

Friday, June 02, 2006

Ephesians 5:1-20

Once again, Paul gives us a lesson on how to live life; loving deeds flowing out of thankfulness gone rampant. The first thing which came to my mind when I thought of the word rampant was my catnip. Years ago, the Mad Gardener and I bought a small catnip plant at thenursery. We presented it to our cats and our younger cat quickly ate it down to nubs, then sat in it and, energized by the catnip, swung at the first thing she saw (her mother). Despite her enthusiasm the plant survived and was planted in the garden.

The thing about catnip, though, is that it's very hard to contain. As we speak it's growing taller and reproducing in the backyard. Placed in a pot, it fills up the pot and will reach out to the nearest pot if it can, to spread. It lives through the winter and was one of our first spring crops.

Paul describes how Christ's sacrifice for us was God's love gone rampant, a love "not cautious but extravagant" (v2, The Message). -This is one of my favorite verses from the Message version: "Watch what God does, and then you do it...MOSTLY WHAT GOD DOES IS LOVE YOU." It's such a simply profound instruction for us all as we go about our workday and interact with non-believers, and those who we love as our brothers and sisters.

We are so blessed. Paul goes on to say that this blessing, to use another analogy besides catnip, means that we are saved from our former life of darkness and murkiness. I think of how scary it is to be in a murky environment, like swimming in murky water, and what a relief the light is in those circumstances. God's love is a relief, and may our life be overflowing with thankfulness.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Ephesians 4:17-32

This is one of those passages that is straightforward and crystal clear. If someone is not a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ, they value different things than someone who is. They spend their time differently. Quite understandably, they make very different decisions.

And so, for the Christian who is serious about their relationship with Christ, there is no “going along with the crowd.” It only makes sense that our lives would look very different from the lives of the world around us. If they don’t, something is wrong.

I love how Eugene Peterson translates verses 20-24:
But that [following the crowd] is no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It's rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.

The following verses give very practical ways we are to put on this new life in Christ. Speak only the truth. Care enough to be angry, but without sin (I think this probably has a lot to do with how attached our anger is to our ego.) Have integrity. Work in order to share, not just for personal gain. Speak only gracious words that build others up. Don’t break God’s heart. Be kind, tender-hearted, forgiving.

Any one of these is potentially revolutionary. Any one of these can change a life and cause it to stand out in bold relief from the world around us. These are the kind of things that happen when a person really does pay attention to Jesus Christ.

This is what it means to be faithful to him.