Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ephesians 1:3-14

Paul opens his letter to the Ephesians with the following statement, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." (v. 3) This opening intrigues me. Has God really given us "every spiritual blessing"? I do not know about you, but I do not always feel that I am particularly blessed. What are these spiritual blessings to which Paul is speaking? To make sure we do not misunderstand what Paul means, he spells out the three spiritual blessings in the subsequent verses. As there are three spiritual blessings it makes sense that one comes from each of the Trinity.

The first spiritual blessing is being seen by God as "holy and blameless". We are seen this way because we believe in Jesus and accept Him as our savior. Of course we are not without sin, but we are seen by God as holy and blameless because of what Jesus did for us.

The second spiritual blessing is given to us through Jesus Christ. In Christ we are redeemed, forgiven, enlightened, and enriched. Redemption means we are freed from sin. Hand-in-hand with redemption is forgiveness - forgiveness of our sins. Enlightenment comes from the knowledge we have that at the end Christ will be the ruler of all. Enrichment signifies the eternal life we will inherit.

The third spiritual blessing is being made spiritually secure. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit indicating we are His and under His protection. To be marked in this way indicates authority, authenticity, and security.

Three spiritual blessings that sometimes are easy to forget in this hectic world in which we live. But these blessings are so important. When life gets us down, think about these blessings and realize how great it is.

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

1 Corinthians 3:10-23

Daily Devotional – Tuesday Nov.28, 2006
1 Corinthians 3:10-23

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

Today Paul uses the analogy of a master builder preparing a foundation on which to build a building. He acknowledges that through the grace of God, he has been given the skill and opportunity to provide the foundation of our lives; and that is Jesus Christ. He then causes his readers to question the value of their works that they place on the foundation and how these works will withstand the test of life. He uses fire as the test of life. While the fire may destroy the products of our lives; it will as well “refine” our salvation. Through Jesus we will survive the final judgment (test by refining fire).

Paul also suggests that we should be careful not to be deceived by intellectual wisdom. To love God does not require great wisdom. We can often be distracted and led by the human wisdom of teachers who may not teach from the foundation of Jesus Christ. The building we create in our lives must align with its foundation if it is to survive the storm or life. We need to seek God’s wisdom. It is not complicated or difficult and it is available to all.

I have had many teachers in my life; some good and some not so good. Often it was much later that I was able to judge the value of the teaching I received. The people that have taught me the most are those who truly care about me the most. Yes I did have school teachers and bosses and fellow workers who provided guidance, knowledge and showed great wisdom to me over my life. I sincerely believe their goal was to help me and not just to teach me. However my greatest teachers have been my family. My wife’s great wisdom has taught me how to live the life God intended for me. As well my children and grand children teach me every day without even knowing they are teaching me. They have taught me how to love. As I love them, I love God knowing that Jesus loves me. The circle of love with God in the middle. It is available to all and just for the asking. Thanks be to God.

AMEN

John Dickie, Nov.28, 2006

Monday, November 27, 2006

Galatians 6:1-10

Commentators on Paul’s letter to the Christian communities in Galatia have often characterized it as “the Magna Carta of Christian liberty.” Magna Carta, of course, struck a signal blow for freedom in 1215 A.D. against the tyrannous power of the monarchy in England. About 1200 years earlier, Paul championed freedom in Jesus against the burdening claims of adherence to Jewish ceremonial law.

Among those communities in Galatia, some contended that followers of Jesus, especially Gentile (non-Jewish) followers, had to comply with all the requirements of Jewish law in the Mosaic writings (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). Jesus was vital for receiving God’s saving grace, but keeping the law was equally vital. In this perspective, Jesus plus the law led to salvation.

Paul vigorously countered this teaching. He denounced it as contrary to the good news of God’s saving love in Jesus. It was, in reality, not good but oppressive news. The true good news consists in the full sufficiency of Jesus’ death and resurrection to reconcile us to God and free us from sin. If we had to keep the law to be in God’s good grace, we would remain enslaved to sin and death because we cannot keep the law perfectly. Jesus freed us from that impossible burden by loving God fully for us, by keeping the law perfectly for us, and by bearing our sin and death for us. In Jesus alone is our true freedom!

Yet this is not freedom from all responsibility and right behavior. It is freedom for life in the fullness of God’s good will for us and our world. Some in the early church misused the freedom we have in Jesus to live without obligation and love for others. We in our modern context are especially disposed to this misuse of freedom. An erroneously individualistic and libertine notion of freedom pervades and perverts our culture and society.

We have only to read today’s passage in Galatians to understand that freedom in Jesus is not freedom to do whatever we like, without regard for others. Rather, freedom in Jesus enables, even compels, us to live lovingly and rightly for others. As we know from Jesus’ teaching and life, love for God does not exempt us from love for others. Love for God frees us to love others truly and happily. In word and deed then, let us freely sow love that we and all the world may harvest, both now and ever, that true and bounteous life which is God’s sublime gift in Jesus.

Gregory Strong

Saturday, November 25, 2006

James 5:13-20


This is the church, the local community of believers, as it ought to be, and if we agree with God, how it will be in practice.

Those who suffer in body, mind, or soul, will be the object of congregational prayerful uplifting, and they will be healed.
Those who have cause to rejoice will sing it from the wellsprings of their exultation, and will inspire those whose spirits drag.
Those who are mired in the guilt and shame of sin will unburden their load on those who will receive them without condemnation, and they will be reunited with them.
Those who have wandered for years in a dry desert will find their oasis, the place of cooling, relieving, growth-yielding rain.

May we be patient when we wait for the Lord, but impatient when we see people that God has called us to love.
May we persevere as Elijah did, with expectation of the coming Anointed One.
May we become the congregation that James encourages us to become.
Amen.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

James 4:13-5:6

Today is Thanksgiving. The great irony of the day is, of course, that very little thanksgiving will actually take place! There will be plenty of cooking, eating, and watching sports. But in terms of actually giving thanks, that will most likely be relegated to a single prayer said by a single person, a brief and customary tradition rather than an appropriately extravagant expression of thanks and praise to God.

The opening verses of today’s reading from James are instructive. They speak of giving God the proper place in our lives; of acknowledging our complete and total dependence on Him. If on Thanksgiving Day we enjoy the bounty before us without intentionally stopping, and with great focus and clarity, recognizing that it is only by God’s grace that we are enjoying such things, then we are guilty of committing the sin James describes here.

The second half of today’s reading from James, beginning in Chapter 5, talks about another very important way we acknowledge God’s place in our lives and practicing what he wrote about in the previous verses: To the best of our knowledge, we live right.

And I’d suggest that perhaps the greatest way we give thanks to God for all He has done for us is to do just that: to live in harmony with the ways and will of God. So another thing we might do on Thanksgiving Day is spend some time considering “how should we then live”.

Personally, I can’t help but think of how at this time last year I was in Mississippi serving others. I can’t help but remember how right that felt, like for once in my life at least I hit the bull’s-eye dead on. And I can’t help but think how it has been so easy since then to fall back into a more self-centered, comfortable life style. I may live simply in regards to most, but that does not mean that I am free from our culture’s obsession with things at the expense of people.

So I have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, but I also have a lot to think about. Maybe you do too?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

James 3:13-4:12

I love the book of James. I love the fact that it is forthright - direct to the point and does not hold anything back. Whenever I read it, it helps me refocus on the way I should act and the way I want to live.

In today's reading I would to focus on two passages. The first passage are the verses in chapter 13. These verses tell us about false wisdom and true wisdom. The result of false wisdom is found in verse 16, "For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice." False wisdom promotes self-assertion and independence. It destroys a spirit of mutual concern.

True wisdom is free from self-interest and strife. It leads to peace and goodness. It results in being "... peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy ..." True wisdom avoids petty quarreling. It promotes peace and righteousness. It does not escalate a conflict, pass on gossip, of fan the fire of discord.

I like to think of myself as a wise person, but after reading these verses I wonder if I'm as wise as I think I am. How about you?

The second passage is found at the end of today's reading - verses 11 and 12 of chapter 4. These two verses remind us that we are not to judge others or to speak bad of them. These verses call out the following question. Do we build people up with our words or do we tear others down? Are we constructive or destructive?

The verses of James clearly tell us that we should use our words to express love and concern for others. It is our human nature to be critical. However, James calls us to resist this urge and to consciously use positive words.

Human pride leads to criticism of others. In other words, by cutting someone else down we automatically elevate ourselves. This may be true in our human world, but it is certainly not true in the heavenly world.

Join me in trying to live a life that follows James' teachings. It will not be easy, and we will not be able to carry it out flawlessly, but let's commit to trying. If we are only partially successful, what a better world this would be.

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

James 3:1-12

Daily Devotional – Tuesday Nov.21, 2006
James 3:1-12

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

Dear Reader, we have spent the last few weeks pondering John’s vision of the future in Revelations. This has been a view of the end of all things as Fr. Rob described it on Sunday Morning. Today we are in a very different place. James gives us a lecture on the “unruly tongue”. James speaks clearly about how we as Christians are to treat each other. He teaches us but he starts with how important it is to be a teacher. Much is expected from those who have much to offer.

I have always considered teachers as the most underrated and recognized professionals in our society. They shape our children and our society ….and often more than we do. We place a great responsibility on Teachers and yet they are not paid enough or get the support they deserve. The consequence is that often the best teachers are off being successful in other professions and are not teaching. Teachers use their voice as the tool of their trade.

We are reminded that we are not perfect. This lack of perfection can be spread to others through how we speak to each other. However the opposite is true as well. As we show the example of Jesus Christ in how we communicate with each other, we can become more perfect. A life centered on Jesus teachings gives us the opportunity to overcome our imperfection. We are who we are. We cannot change our inner nature ourselves. Our own tongue shows our true nature and can be a very destructive force. Something so small can leverage a great result and not always for the good.

James is telling us to reveal God through our behavior and by what we say. Jesus has taught us to speak the truth in Love, to compliment and to encourage, to forgive and to comfort. God’s gift of the Holy Spirit gives us the power to control our nature and our tongue and use it for his service. What a wonderful gift it is!

AMEN

John Dickie, Nov.21, 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006

James 2:14-26

One of the most deep-seated and complicated problems in human existence lies in the disjunction between knowledge and action, or knowing and doing. This problem also produces some of the most frustrating, disappointing, and destructive conditions and behaviors in our lives. In my own life, for example, I know, without question, that this or that behavior would be good to do, both for me and for others. Yet I do not act upon it. Likewise, I know, without question, that this or that behavior would be wrong to do, both for me and others. Yet I act upon it. The disjunction and even conflict between knowing and doing plague us all in various ways.

In the context of the deepest and most vital chamber of our life – namely, our faith – James addressed this problem of knowing and doing. Can we say we have faith in God if our belief in God does not issue in certain kinds of actions? James adamantly replied, “No! Faith not expressed in good deeds is useless, even dead. Faith expressed in good deeds is alive and useful.” That is, faith does not really exist where actions do not express it. There can be no genuine faith in God without embodying and enacting it.

As James concretely observed, the principal way to express genuine faith consists in acts of charity on behalf of others. The claim to faith in God apart from such acts basically focuses on self. It is self-absorbed and self-deluded. This cannot be genuine faith. Jesus made it clear that love for God and love for neighbor inextricably intertwine. Certainly, priority belongs to loving God. Yet God takes the love we give him, turns it right around, and directs it to others by calling us to love our neighbor. It is impossible to be faithful to God by claiming to love him if we do not also show love to others. Though James did not quote Jesus, Jesus’ teaching on love firmly underlies James’s argument on faith and actions.

Genuine faith encompasses belief and commitment. At the deepest and most vital level of our being, such faith begins to overcome the fragmentation between what we know and what we do. It yields true integrity in our beliefs and our actions. In genuine faith, rooted in love for God and love for our neighbor, knowing and doing come together in wholeness, a wholeness substantiated in us through God’s transforming grace. This is saving faith, the only true faith in God.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Philippians 3:13-4:1

I have always loved the first part of today’s reading: “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

Athletics have been part of my life for as long as I can remember and the image of these words resounds within me. I can picture all the times I have spent practicing and training with a specific goal in mind or a destination towards which I was striving. I like to picture of my walk of faith in this light - A path of training and practicing with specific points of competition and achievement.

As I read these words again, I was struck by something new. Paul writes that he forgets what lies behind. Typically in athletics, things build on top of one another. You build your endurance and continue to increase the distances that you run or you increase your speed over a distance, second by second. Perhaps, it’s the putting practice that is the next step in improving your golf game. Forgetting what lies behind only really applies in sports when you try to forget failures. This may be what Paul is talking about.

When we repent of our sins, God forgives us our sins. Sometimes, though, we don’t forgive ourselves or we continue to remember and carry the weight of the sins in our hearts and minds.

I was struck by Paul’s declaration. His words told me to change my perspective. I have an eternal hope that is waiting for me. That should be my focus and my goal. I shouldn’t let the choices of my past or my past performances dissuade me from the focus of my eternal hope. Let this be your perspective too.


Alan Davenport

Saturday, November 18, 2006

James 2:1-13

In these verses, James tells us to “love your neighbor as yourself”. He warns against showing partiality and favoritism. James’ instruction is to fully obey the law; it’s not okay to do only the unchallenging parts. He takes it one step further when he says to demonstrate the same level of love and mercy to others that we experience from God.

For people close to us, this might not be too difficult – most of the time. But it’s not always easy. People can be difficult to deal with, unfriendly, a little scary or unwilling to accept the love. With some, it’s easier to judge them rather than showing love and mercy. And yet, God asks us to love them as He loves us. This might be as simple as saying “Good morning” to someone or saying a prayer for them. To follow Jesus’ example, means looking beyond the prickly, dissimilar, or disagreeable person that we see to find the valuable, lovable person that He sees.

Following Jesus requires us to make hard choices and we have to decide if the reward is worth the sacrifice. The Message reads “Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time”.
Lord, Enable me to demonstrate kind mercy instead of harsh judgment with the people in my life.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

James 1:1-15

Ahhh, the book of James! Now this is a book that is very easy to understand. The hard part is to put in practice the clear truths it teaches.

James is a book that has often been associated with “works”; with our actions rather than our “faith”. But in these opening verses James sets the rest of the book in the context of the importance of faith. We are encouraged to have faith in God’s ability to work even in the midst of our most difficult times; to have faith that God really will give us the wisdom we need for living through these times; to have faith that any sacrifices we make in this life are well worth the cost; and to have faith that it is better to resist temptation than give into it.

In each of these situations, our faith is the vehicle by which we are able to continue to confidently hope for the best, even when what life actually brings us is trials and tribulations. It’s what keeps us connected to God so that we are willing to pay the price necessary to live the kind of Christian life described in the verses to come. And let us make not mistake: there is a price to be paid in living the kind of life that follows in Jesus’ footsteps.

Take verse 12-15 for instance. Desire is, of course, desirable. But sometimes our desires are inappropriate, destructive, or hurtful. To say “no” to our desires is to say no to what we want, and that is painful. Is it really worth it?

Faith answers, “Yes, it is.”

As but one example, I think of wanting to maintain a healthy body weight. The benefits are many—less stress on the joints, less stress on the heart, increased likelihood of living a long and active life, and so on. To maintain a healthy body weight, I have to push away that second helping of food. I have to push away desert at every meal. It’s not easy—I really, really want that second helping or luscious desert. It would not be unfair to say I crave it. In the moment saying “no” is painful, but in the long run it brings far great rewards than a moment’s simple passing pleasure.

James tells us it is that way with all our “sinful” desires. It may well mean choosing pain instead of pleasure now. But faith answers resolutely, “It will be worth it in the end”.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Revelation 19:11-21

Today's reading tells us of the second coming of Christ. In the Nicene Creed a sentence right before the last paragraph says, "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end." Today's reading describes the first part of that sentence - coming again in glory as a judge.

As we examine today's reading I want to point out a couple of things that I find of interest.

When Jesus first came to the earth, some 2,000 years ago, he came as a sacrificial lamb. Jesus' first coming brought forgiveness. As today's reading tells us, in the second coming of Jesus we will see him as a conqueror and as a king. His second coming will bring judgment to those left on the earth after the rapture. This judgment will be final and result in the total destruction of evil (the beast, the false prophet, and all of those that worship the beast).

The second item I want to discuss may not be as obvious as the first. The second item I find interesting is the four names used for Christ in today's reading.

The name Jesus Christ is not used in today's reading, but I think it is clear that the rider of the white horse is Jesus. This rider is identified as "Faithful and True." I think this refers to Jesus as the faithful and true witness to God's glory.

The second name is unknown to us, known only to him. I think this implies that no name can do Jesus justice. Just like heaven will have a peace beyond our understanding, Jesus is greater than any human description can devise.

The third name is the "Word of God." What strikes me about this name is the use of "Word." In his Gospel, John called Jesus "the Word". Jesus speaks God's words, acts according to the word of God, and is the word of God.

The fourth name is actually two titles listed together, "King of kings and Lord of lords." This properly allows the reader to know the true position of Jesus in the hierarchy of man.

Yes, Jesus did die, Jesus was resurrected, and Jesus will come again. From today's reading it will be a glorious return that triumphs over evil.

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Revelation 19:1-10

Daily Devotional – Tuesday Nov.14, 2006
Revelation 19:1-10

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

Today we continue to share John’s apocryphal vision. In fact these opening 10 verses of the 19th chapter bring us to the end of the 7 visions and show us the end of the struggle and the fall of Babylon or of Rome. It can also be seen as the end of the Evil Empire. No this isn’t Star Wars though George Lucas may have been reading revelations back in the 70’s or it may have been some other mind-altering source.

John tells us of God’s judgment of the “harlot”. This judgment is not a good one. This judgment comes in the midst of great jubilation, noise and the 4 cries of Halleluiah! We are then told we are invited to the wedding feast to celebrate the wedding of the Lamb (Christ) and his Bride (The Church – you and me). The Bride is clothed in fine white linen and is bright and pure. To be invited to the wedding feast means we have also been judged but found to be pure and worthy. Our love and faith in Jesus our advocate in heaven has made us worthy of this great privilege.

This is wonderful image after the many images of conflict and strife that come before. It is a great relief that the conflict is coming to an end and that God and The Lamb have prevailed. How wonderful it is to be chosen; to be chosen for anything. I remember how I felt when I was selected by Margot to be her husband. Wow! I remember how I felt when I was chosen for my first promotion. I know how thrilled my grandson was last week when he was chosen for the soccer all-star team. These are moments you don’t forget and they change your life. Being chosen is great but what is greater is what you do with the opportunity you are given. I believe the old cliché that “you cannot win if you don’t play”. God expects us to play. He demands us to play. Those around us judge us every day AND we are judged by God. We are judged by what we do as this defines who we are. As verse 19:10 points out, we are judged as equals regardless of who we are. God does not differentiate between our deeds. He loves us equally. “Halleluiah”

AMEN

John Dickie, Nov.14, 2006

Monday, November 13, 2006

Revelation 18:15-24

As we read today’s passage we ride through the climactic scenes of Revelation. Soon we will reach the new heaven and earth where God has designed and constructed a glorious city for his beloved people to inhabit. In this holy city, the new Jerusalem, we will enjoy the plenitude of God’s shalom – a wondrous peace seeded and flowered by the death and resurrection of the Lamb, Jesus himself. Yet now, today, in this passage we must ride through great conflict and ordeal before we come to dwell in the new heaven and earth.

What generates this conflict and ordeal? Rebellion against God. This is what spews out strife and suffering for all people, and especially for those who give their lives to love and serve God. The portrait of such rebellion comes in the forms of a lavishly dressed woman, a strange and hideous beast, and a city decked out in all the trappings of material wealth and worldly power. Styled as Babylon the Great, that city opposes God’s purposes, God’s people, and God’s city. Like all claimants to power in this world who ignore, reject, or even war against the true ruler of the cosmos, that city believes itself to be supreme, invincible, and unending.

How ironic then is the repetition of the phrase “in one hour.” Namely, “in one hour” that city’s doom will come upon it! What took long years of human history and empire-building to amass – impressive physical structures, intricate systems, and stockpiles of money and goods – will be judged and swept away by God “in one hour.” However attractive and strong rebellion against God may appear, it eventually corrodes and crumbles before true glory and power.

It is vital that we grasp and take this to heart. That which the world, apart from God, passes off as valuable and durable will pass away. That which God makes valuable and durable will last. We must not give ourselves to the transient, and especially we must not give ourselves to false claims of glory and power in the world around us. Only God’s new heaven and earth are truly and fully good, lovely, and enduring. For the time being, we sojourn here among the transient and false. In God’s good time, we will abide and abound in his new city. Let us now, then, begin to live in heart, mind, and body in ways that fit us for that glorious citizenship.

Gregory Strong

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Revelation 18:1-14


Babylon. What a city it must have been! Its walls were 200 to 300 feet high, and wide enough at the top for two carriages to pass one another. And within the city was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, a "not-to-be-missed-marvel", the Hanging Gardens of King Nebuchadnezzar, built, it was said, for his queen. Perhaps better termed the "overhanging" gardens, for lofty-reaching vegetation. No one really has any idea of what they looked like, for they were long gone, as the city was, by the time of Christ. Nonetheless, many have imagined the garden towers reaching to heaven, and spilling over with lushness, suffused with ingenious irrigated moistness in the midst of the desert, a cross between greenhouse and penthouse. And yet for all their splendors and beauty, beyond them and after them was a corrupt and then a fallen kingdom. The ziggurats of Babylon arched high, but the sins were piled higher.

The Israelites were conquered and brought to Babylon in 586 BC. By the rivers of Babylon, says Psalm 137, "we lay down and wept when we remembered Zion." How can we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? Yet the exiled people remembered, they sang, they wrote the words that became Scripture.

Within two generations the Babylonians had themselves fallen to the Persians. The memory of that exile in Babylon persisted down to John's day. John himself was an exile in Patmos, on account of the Gospel, far from his roots in Jerusalem. In John's vision, Babylon, though physically in ruins 700 years after its peak, would in some form rise again with its riches and its dominance of the region.

Would it rise again as the expression of a 21st century dictator who fancied himself as Nebuchadnezzar II? Saddam Hussein sought to restore Babylon to new glory, to suit his own agenda. Presumably Saddam's dream will not be realized, but the hold that Babylon exerts and will continue to exert on the imagination means that the dream will remain to be sought out again. The Fertile Crescent in which Babylon rose was the cradle of civilization. Humans seek out our roots. We will inevitably seek them in Babylon again. But if the towers, like Babel, are built only through physical striving and with worldly wealth, they will fall again, and fall hard, and remain but a memory of a lost city.

Lord, help us to know that you alone are the source of richness in life.

May we long for the fruit that flowers in your gardens alone.

May we see the splendor that is reached only by walking through your gates.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Revelation 17: 1-18

In this chapter, the writer of Revelation is shown a vision which apparently shocks him as much as it does us. (v6). The chapter begins with a picture of evil; a prostitute who the kings of the world had relations with. The author then saw a vision of a woman, who may represent Babylon or Rome, drunk with the blood of the saints and those who were faithful to Jesus.

At first reading I, like the writer, “shook my head in astonishment” (v 6). But we can pray for understanding and pray that God meets us on the pages of Scripture. This chapter seems to depict a very grim picture but the word HOPE came to my mind. Scripture is written to give us hope, and how can this be true in this passage?

For one thing, the concept of suffering and evil wasn’t new to the Christians to whom the book of Revelation was written. Remember that they were being persecuted for their faith by the state (Rome) and unfortunately bloodshed was not unknown. So God is telling the author, have hope, I know what is going to happen and the evil will be defeated. My plans for the world will come to pass. The prostitute (evil nations) will be defeated and I even know when (v 17) - it will be when my words are fulfilled.

This chapter contains vivid, grim pictures and was written for grim times. But for evil, John is pointing out; the end is coming and will be swept away. John is encouraging his readers to have hope in this.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Revelation 16:12-21

Once again we see in our passage numerous references to Old Testament Scriptures. Things like the drying up of water, the plague of frogs, peals of lightning and thunder coupled with the shaking of the very foundations of the earth, and the coming of massive hail, all would call up numerous stories from the Old Testaments with which John’s readers would have been familiar.

These stories would have recalled God’s decisive action on behalf of His people. God would have His people be free, and in particular be free to express their love for Him in worship. All that stands against such freedom, and all that stands against right worship, will be subject to the strongest judgments of God as a clear expression of the wrath of God.

So, while this section does indeed speak of judgment, it also revisits the theme that Greg wrote about earlier in the week—the theme of worship.

It’s probably worth thinking about what stands in the way of right worship. Some of the obstacles to worship are external, though we don’t face many of these in contemporary America. When John was writing, however, and still in much of the world today, the worship of God in Jesus was forbidden by the government. And this condemnation of Christian worship was (and is) enforced by penalties of punishment, cruel torture, and death.

But other obstacles to worship are internal. They are of our own making. No one forces them upon us; we freely choose them ourselves. I am not suggesting that we intentionally choose to ignore God or brazenly assign Him a place minor importance in our lives. But I am suggesting that through such things as distraction, greed, self centeredness, hurry, worry, getting caught up in the trivial, and more, we subvert what worship could and should be.

So at the risk of being redundant, I am going to ask the same question as Greg—how is our worship? This passage makes it frighteningly clear that there is far more riding on our answer than we first might think.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Revelation 16:1-11

In today’s reading we begin the bowl judgments. You might ask what are the bowl judgments? Didn’t we discuss judgments earlier in Revelation? What were those judgments? All good questions.

The bowl judgments are God’s final and complete judgments on the earth. The earlier judgments in Revelation are called the trumpet judgments. To me, there are three main distinctions between the bowl judgments and the trumpet judgments.

(1) The bowl judgments are complete and final. The trumpet judgments only affected a part of the earth and heavens.
(2) Because of (1), the trumpet judgments still give unbelievers the opportunity to repent. The bowl judgments do not – that is what is meant by a final judgment.
(3) The trumpet judgments indirectly affects mankind. All of the bowl judgments directly affect mankind.

In today’s reading we know the people receiving these bowl judgments know they are coming from God. We know this because in the reading mankind curses God for sending these judgments upon the earth. Now this is very important as I think this is the key, or at least one key, message in today’s reading.

I know each of us has met people that have a very hard heart towards Christianity and perhaps religion in general. Some of these people may even be hostile towards the subject. When the trumpet judgments come, and God’s power is revealed, I am amazed that all people do not repent. I mean what other proof does one need? However, from the reading today we know some will refuse to repent – some will have such a hardened heart that they will not repent. The message is, if you, or I, find ourselves ignoring God on a particular issue, we should turn back to Him now before our heart becomes too hard to repent. If we ignore God for an extended period of time, today’s reading tells us that at some point a human heart will become unable to receive His word and then it will be too late to turn back to Him.

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

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

revelations 14:14-15:8

Daily Devotional – Tuesday Nov.7, 2006
Revelation 14:14-15:8

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

Today we share John’s apocryphal vision. I must admit a great struggle to get meaning out of these passages. Therefore some research was needed. I was pleased to find information so easily available on the web by simply doing a google on the book of revelation. There it was – everything you would want to know and then some. However I must remind myself that the purpose of this in not to educate you or me on what this is all means but to let God reveal himself through this passage. I remind myself to be open to his message and love.

In Chapter 14 we see the end of the 4th vision including the symbol of the harvest and the Last Judgment. In fact there are the 2 harvests of the righteous and the harvest of the wicked. The image of God sowing his field and bringing in the ripened grain is very vivid this time of year. Equally vivid is the image of God bringing in the ripe grapes and putting them into the wine press where they are subjected to the wrath of God. In these 2 images we see both hope for the righteous and a stern warning for the non-believers. Wow and Ouch!

In Chapter 15 we see the very beginning of the 5th vision – that of the Victorious. We are shown Heaven with a vision of those who had conquered Satan. They are singing songs of Moses and the song of the lamb. This to me is a vision of the coming together of the old and the new; or the combining of the Law and Love; or the connecting of the Old and the New Testaments. In the middle is the risen Jesus Christ promising that God’s power of love will prevail at the last day and forever; and Jesus keeps his promises.

AMEN

John Dickie, Nov.7, 2006

Monday, November 06, 2006

Revelation 14:1-13

We find the word “worship” commonly used in religious spheres. We even encounter it sometimes in the language of romance and love. Yet what do we mean by “worship”?

In its English origins, the word “worship” referred to the “worth-ship” of a person. “Worth-ship” did not signify primarily material worth. It indicated a person’s qualities and social standing. “Worthiness” may be a good equivalent in modern usage. In its older sense then, worship – as in the form of address “Your Worship” – meant showing respect to a person.

In our contemporary context, we may encounter the word “worship” in the context of romance and love. Here it signifies strong emotion and high regard. The person beloved and “worshipped” possesses great value for the one who loves or “worships.”

In our faith context, we combine and heighten the meaning of worship in terms of respect, strong emotion, and high regard. We worship God because of the utter greatness of his being and excellence. Thus we acknowledge God’s “worth-ship.” Our worship includes respect for God but goes beyond to involve giving our love or devotion and pledging our allegiance to him. God possesses the highest value and conveys value to those who worship him. As we worship, God transforms our hearts and minds, thus shaping our very identity and purpose.

The truth is that we all worship something. We may worship in the “weaker” sense of believing strongly in the importance or value of a thing (e.g., money or success) or a person (e.g., a famous person or lover). Or we may worship in the “stronger” sense of having a commanding and abiding commitment or devotion to what we perceive to be a surpassing good or being. In either sense, what we worship shapes us, motivates us, and draws us toward certain ends.

What we find in today’s passage in Revelation is worship in the stronger, truer sense. We see two communities of worship. One community consists of those who worship God as known in Jesus – the slain and now risen Lamb. The other community consists of those who worship some other supposed power – for example, nation, nature, alleged deity, money, success, or the like.

The issue posed in the passage – in dramatic symbols – challenged John’s readers. It challenges us today. What will we worship? Will we worship Jesus? Or will we worship something other than Jesus? Jesus is truly worthy of true worship. The other is not. Jesus leads to goodness and life. The other leads to evil and death. To which community, then, will we belong? Jesus alone is worthy of worship – our commanding and abiding devotion and adoration. Will we worship Jesus? Surpassing goodness and life are his gifts when we do!

Gregory Strong

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Revelation 13:11-19

As others have expressed this week, I, too, am intimidated and confused by Revelation. But I’ll do my best and trust that God will provide the thoughts and words.

In yesterday’s reading, John described the beast that rose from the sea. And it was explained that some believe this to be a reference to the Roman Empire. In today’s reading, John describes a second beast that rose out of the earth. He states this beast “makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, …” The commentary and Study Bible I read indicated the second beast is a reference to the Roman magistrate and organizations which enforced worship of the Roman Emperor or Caesar. In fact, Roman law dictated that a person refusing to worship Caesar could be put to death. Even if the offender’s life was spared, they would be economically ruined – unable to buy or sell without the mark of the beast on their forehead or hand. According to my references, the mark could refer to the seal of the emperor on contracts or coinage showing the head of the emperor. One reference mentioned that the mark on the forehead or hand was significant because the forehead represents our thoughts and the hand represents our actions.

The Christians had to make a choice – worldly success or loyalty to Jesus.

As I read, I thought of recent sermons and readings on showing the love of Christ through our actions and of the importance of worship and fellowship. The verse in James 2 that reads “Show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works” came to mind. Many people have pointed out that a good measure of our priorities is the amount of time we spend on them.

When we let God into our hearts, He transforms us and it shows. We let God in (it only takes a little) and He starts the transformation; perhaps by drawing us to come to church and participate in worship and fellowship, to hear His Word. Through these things He continues the changes and, as we learn and grow in our relationship with Him, we show love to others. Through God’s grace, we will have the strength and courage to make the choice to be loyal to Jesus. Amen.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Revelation 13:1-10

I must say that whenever the reading is from the Book of Revelation, I get intimidated while I’m also fascinated. One of the things that fascinates me is the continuing push and pull between good and evil – God and Satan. It is difficult sometimes to know which is which due to the symbolism. In these verses, the beast seems to be aligned with the dragon, and we know from the previous verses that the dragon is not a representative of God’s side. Some believe that the beast represented the Roman Empire, or some deification of a secular authority or even an anti-Christian power. Later, it was believed that the beast represented the Roman Catholic Church.

In any event, the purpose of these verses is to establish the players as they wind their way into the final battle. The beast appears to be subordinate to the dragon. Unlike the dragon, the beast was given the ability to communicate and was given many earthly powers. This places the Christians in a very difficult position. Life during the Apocalypse is becoming increasingly difficult for true believers. This leads to the last verse in this passage which says “This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.”

Frankly, I can’t think about the Apocalypse. It takes my whole energy to get through the week with my Christian values in tact. If the Apocalypse happens during my life time, I’ll have to deal with it when it comes. I simply cannot plan for it other than to pray that I will have the strength and courage I will need to get through.

However, I can deal with the constant battle between good and evil on a daily basis. I can pray, I can read and study the Bible and I can listen for God’s message to me. It is difficult for me to wade through the esoteric studies of the Book of Revelation. But, I think I can practice “patient endurance and faithfulness” without getting too bogged down in the arcane symbolism of Revelation.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Revelation 12:7-17

Do you recognize the Christmas story in these verses?

I’d suggest, along with a number of scholars writing about this passage, that with the beginning of Chapter 12 we have here is a retelling of the nativity story from a cosmic perspective.

In the first six verses, we see a nightmare unfold. A huge reptile, both vicious and violent, waits in front of a pregnant woman (with toothy, slavering mouth open, I imagine) to devour her child the instant it is born. We can hardly bear to watch, as the odds seem stacked against the child’s survival…

But at the last possible second, God snatches the child away to safety. It turns out that the power of God is greater than the power of the dragon, as impressive as it first might seem.

This brings us to today’s verses, where a great war results between the forces of Good and the forces of evil. Jesus, the child born from the pregnant woman, has come to “rule the earth”; that is, to establish the kingdom of God where all is as it should be; where love and goodness and truth and loveliness reign supreme.

But the powers of darkness don’t take this laying down. Starting with Herod in the slaying of infants and continuing through Pilate and Rome, evil fights back. Once again, however, its purposes are thwarted and the dragon and his forces are defeated.

Still the dragon fights on. Unable to claim the child for its dinner, it now pursues the woman. The woman has just given birth; worn out, weak, and weary, she seems unable to fight or even protect herself. And yet…she bests the dragon too!

The dragon is now 0 for the 3…Could it be he is not as powerful, not as fierce, not as dominant as he first seems? The child is safe. The woman is safe. What will it try next?

We don’t have to wait long. The dragon, angrier than ever, now wages war with the “rest of the woman’s children”, who turn out to be the faithful people of God, who turn out to be you and me.

Not that I want to give the ending away, but here is the big question: Is there any reason to think the dragon will be any more successful in his campaign against us than it has been with the woman or the child?

The point: Take heart. Trust God. In the fight against the dragon and his forces—a battle that sometimes fiercely waged and extracts a great price—persevere.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Revelation 12:1-6

Today's reading is just six verses. I think this is the shortest reading I have had during my time writing Wednesday devotions. However, these six verses amplify the reality of spiritual warfare to me.

Let me begin by offering my thoughts on the symbolism in these verses. First, who or what is the woman symbolizing? Some say it is the Virgin Mary - which seems obvious on a first reading. However, I am in the camp of another school of thought which describes the woman as the faithful people of God. The twelve stars on her head represent the twelve tribes of Israel - the human Jesus was born in, out of, Israel.

Second, the red, seven headed, ten horned dragon symbolizes Satan. The dragon's tail knocking one-third of the stars from the sky symbolizes the angles that fell with Satan and became his demons. Remember when Satan was expelled from Heaven he took his followers, one-third of the angles, with him.

Third, the baby symbolizes Jesus Christ who, after his time on earth, was taken to Heaven to sit at the right hand of God.

Now let's get the message of these verses. When Jesus was born in the small town of Bethlehem, it was not big, global news. Sure three wise men came because they knew Jesus was the Messiah, but that was about it. However, today's reading tells us that this relative non-event on earthly terms had and has tremendous spiritual significance. From the time of Jesus' birth, Satan has been trying to destroy him because he knew the ultimate outcome if Jesus succeeded is his defeat. A few examples include, Satan influencing King Herod to attempt to kill the infant Jesus. Satan tempting Jesus with immediate riches and power. Satan doing everything he could to convince Jesus not to be the sacrificial lamb for all the sins of mankind.

None of Satan's tricks worked and Jesus successfully completed his mission as a human being. And as a result, as today's verses tell us, the child was "snatched up to God and to his throne" before he could be devoured by the dragon.

These verses are just the opening act in the story that unfolds through Revelation 14:20. I cannot wait to see how it turns out. It opens great for our side!

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