Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Deuteronomy 9:13-21; Psalms 119:49-72; Hebrews 3:12-19; John 2:23-3:15

About fifteen years ago, I was breaking several of God’s commandments. I had not wanted to do so, but I continued for three more years. After I stopped, I began to have trouble walking. It was at that time that God called me back to my Episcopal heritage, and I joined Saint Matthew’s and became very active. God allowed me to become totally and permanently disabled with severe neurological deficit. I was forced to take disability retirement. Then I found out I was also diabetic and was put on insulin. I found myself becoming totally dependent on God and was becoming more aware of God and what he wanted from me. I began reading the Bible and learning. I confessed my sins and received forgiveness. I now had a close, totally open relationship with God and a deeper understanding of him. God loves each of us and wants us to love one another and listen to him. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10.)

Geraldine Arnold

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Deuteronomy 9:4-12; Psalm 45; Hebrews 3:1-11; John 2:13-22

A year and a half ago I went to Montana to help out with the youth mission trip. During the week God began renewing in me a need for change. I came back from that trip knowing that God had big plans for my life. Those plans will involve huge changes in lifestyle, work, and family which will continue for the rest of my life. Honestly, I wasn’t ready to make those changes.

Living for Jesus is both incredibly easy and incredibly difficult. Jesus allows us to share eternity with him through the simple act of accepting him as our Lord and Savior. The problem is what comes next. If we really do accept Christ as our Savior, then our entire lives need to reflect that acceptance.

I was listening to a talk by a priest, Timothy Keller, who said, “Religion is ‘I obey, therefore I’m accepted.’ The Gospel is ‘I’m accepted by what Jesus Christ has done for me, therefore I obey.’ ”

After our mission trip I began seeing my place in the world differently. God has made it even clearer that he has plans for me which affect more than my day-to-day schedule. I’ve found all sorts of ways to put off his focus.

Maybe focusing on other people and God is more a dream I’d love instead of a calling from God. Maybe I’m just imagining it all. Shouldn’t I be 100% sure that it’s God who wants me to change my whole livelihood for him? Should I really ask my family to change because of a call from God?

The Israelites saw God’s works and miracles all the time but they constantly turned away from him. They were religious without really understanding that their covenant with God was a gift. Obeying God is a gift which we are privileged to accept. God has made my life the amazing gift that it is, and I look forward to how he will continue to do this for the rest of the world in the future. I’m finding that I want to be a part of that future no matter what he asks of me.

God’s calling. Are you going to answer?

Tom Leary

Monday, February 26, 2007

Deuteronomy 8:11-20; Psalms 41, 52; Hebrews 2:11-18; John 2:1-12

Today’s reading from Hebrews reminds us of our kinship with Jesus. Since we have been set apart by God and made holy, we are able to claim ourselves his brothers and sisters. It is in this connection that Jesus had to be made “like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

It’s reassuring to go about our day knowing there is nothing we are experiencing that Jesus himself does not understand – that therefore he can help us through. It’s comforting to know that Jesus, by carrying our sins to the cross and conquering death, healed the broken relationship we once had with our Father.

While selecting books at the library for my preschool class, I came upon the book All the Way to God by Katie and Michael Giuliano. As I read, it reminded me of this passage from Hebrews, of the sacrifice Jesus gave and his ultimate gift of love that brought us back to God. The story recounts the bedtime ritual of a father and his four year old daughter. When asked, “How much does Daddy love you?” his daughter would stretch out her arms as far as she could to show him how much.

To his surprise, one night after she responded in her usual way she said, “But, Daddy, I love you even more, I love you all the way to the ceiling.” Not to be out done he responded back, “If you love me all the way to the ceiling, then I love you all the way to the roof.”

And so the game continued until they had reached the very end of the galaxy. Knowing the end of the galaxy is pretty far away but also knowing she loved her father very much, the little girl smiled and said, “Daddy, you may love me to the end of the galaxy, but I love you even more… I love you all the way to God!

How like a child to so beautifully put the gift that Jesus gave us all.

Debbie Vereb

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Deuteronomy 8:1-10; Psalms 63, 98; 1 Corinthians 1:17-31; Mark 2:18-22

Being in Lent can, I find, cause me to focus on what I have decided to give up rather than bringing me closer to God. However, today’s reading in Deuteronomy reminds us of all that God does for us even during suffering; it causes us to recall how close to us he truly is. Every day we consciously recreate the experiences of the Israelites and rely on the same grace that he showed them. Yet the reading also reminds us that, despite the grace of God, we still have responsibilities as followers of Christ to follow his commandments, walk in his ways, and fear him. The promise of heaven awaits us in the end just as, at the end of Lent, there awaits the promise of Easter.

Alex Davenport

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Deuteronomy 7:17-26; Psalms 30, 32; Titus 3:1-15; John 1:43-51

Isn’t it amazing how much there is to learn and ponder in the Bible? We all have this vast piece of real estate with so much to explore and contemplate. Every excursion into the Bible brings new insights and ideas.

Deuteronomy 7:17 reminds of us of our struggles and fears so long ago. And in the description of those struggles it states, “[Y]ou saw with your own eyes the great trials, the miraculous signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm.” The power of that memory reminds us not to be afraid of our enemies, of our trials, of our struggles.

For all the victories that have gotten us where we are today and where we want to be tomorrow, Psalm 30 reminds us to be thankful and to give praise for the strength captured in those memories. It is what has buoyed us through our storms: “[F]or you lifted me out of the depths…. I called to you for help and you healed me.”

Titus 3:3-9 remind us that it is not our good behavior that has allowed us to get through our tribulations. “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.”

And then, we come back to a vision.

Jesus states in John 1:51, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” So we move from the power of what was witnessed centuries ago to what will be witnessed in some tomorrow. And tying the two visions together are the underlying strength and mercy available to all of us.

Richard Henry

Friday, February 23, 2007

Deuteronomy 7:12-16; Psalm 31; Titus 2:1-15; John 1:35-42

I chose Psalm 31 for my devotional. I have always felt that the psalms showed the very human side of David. Many of the psalms fluctuate between elation and terrible sadness and fear. This psalm is no different. However, what drew me to Psalm 31 is that this was the psalm that Jesus was thinking of when he died on the cross. Verse 5 (in the New International Version) is “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (or in other versions “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit”).

This psalm is an anguished cry for delivery from enemies. It was certainly a fitting prayer that Jesus prayed as he gave up his life. It’s an easy thing to feel cut off from God. But Jesus did not feel cut off. He gave up his life knowing that God was there for him. Jesus not only gave up his life but went through unimaginable horrors – the scourging and everything that happened that day. And he did that without giving up the belief that God was there. Jesus knew that he had to go through those things in order to get to the end game – God’s kingdom.

How can we – the regular Joe – get to that point? How can our faith carry us to get through our trials? One way is to stay focused on God’s goodness, on God’s promise of deliverance. I certainly can only guess at what was going on in Jesus’ tortured mind that day. But I think he stayed focused. I would think that would be the only way he could get through that day. Even though he was holy he was human, and he was being crucified by humans. There was nothing divine about how he was crucified. I think he stayed totally focused on God’s kingdom – on what he had been sent to earth to do. His crucifixion was the main event. Everything he had been teaching about and everything that would live through the ages were leading to this event.

One of the many things we can glean from Jesus’ dealing with his own crucifixion is to focus on God’s goodness. When all seems lost, when we are despondent, instead of yielding to those feelings of hopelessness, keep your eyes and your mind on God because he will always lead you home.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Deuteronomy 7:6-11; Psalm 37:1-18; Titus 1:1-16; John 1:29-34

Of the readings for today, I will discuss the gospel reading. It is a fairly short reading but has some strong messages. The messages of today’s gospel reading help me to focus, and re-focus, on some of the aspects of being a Christian. I hope they do the same for you.

Today’s gospel reading has some obvious messages and some not as obvious. The obvious ones include Jesus being proclaimed the Messiah and Jesus being called the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” These messages are the foundations of Christianity, and thus very important, but I want to focus on the latter messages, the ones that are not as obvious.

In particular, I want to discuss two “not as obvious” messages from today’s reading. The first is found in verse 30, where John the Baptist says, “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” John the Baptist was a popular preacher who attracted large crowds. Yet by this statement he realizes, and is content in knowing, that Jesus would be even more popular. This is true humility. By his action John teaches us that we all should be content in the work God has given each of us to do to further his kingdom. We should allow Jesus to be glorified by the work we do. When we are happy to allow Jesus to receive the glory for our work, then God will do great things through us. This helps me remember that I am not doing tasks for the glory of me, and I should not be bitter or upset if I do not get public credit. Heavenly credit is much greater than earthly credit can ever be.

The second message I want to point out is found in verse 34. In this verse John testifies that Jesus is the Son of God. We are all called to make such a testimony. There will be times in our lives when opportunities will present themselves for such testimony. Do we succeed or fail when these opportunities present themselves? I often wonder why I am afraid to make such a testimony. The point to this message is that I should not be afraid and I should proclaim it with authority. After all, in many cases the reason these opportunities present themselves is because a person is seeking an answer or a way that can only be found in or through Jesus Christ.

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

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Jonah 3:1-4:11; Psalms 32, 143; Hebrews 12:1-14; Luke 18:9-14

“I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.” (Psalm 143.)

I remember when my son enthusiastically said he wanted to go on a church-sponsored, one-day ski trip. He said he wanted to learn how to ski. Because he is a perfectionist and quick to be frustrated, I was hesitant. But he really wanted this. He said he could take a group skiing lesson, as noted on the brochure. Then he asked if I’d ski, too. Well, there are members of my family who are athletic and excel in any and every sport they try, but I’m not one of them! Also, I’m from Texas, where we stayed home on the rare days we had flurries. Certainly, I wasn’t about to set my feet voluntarily on a pair of long, thin slats (with no brakes, I might add) to go down a snow-packed hill. I told my son that I would go with him to the ski resort and that he could take a group lesson, but when he was on skis he’d be on his own. I’d be nearby, sipping hot chocolate. He said that was fine. Nevertheless, I remained apprehensive.

Shortly after arriving at the ski resort, he joined his friends for the group lesson. I stood nearby, watching. Some of his friends learned quickly and skied down the beginner’s hill almost effortlessly, but not my son. The harder he tried, the more often he fell. At one point he fell face-down into the snow. Surely, I thought, he’ll give up and join me. But he didn’t. He lifted his head and screamed as loud as he could. I felt so helpless.

“O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief.” (Psalm 143.)

I called him to come to me, telling him it was OK to stop. But even as tears streamed down his face, he shook his head “No.” He was determined to learn.

By the end of the group lesson, my son was extremely frustrated and upset that he hadn’t learned how to ski. He wouldn’t be comforted. Finally, I prayed. Almost immediately, I realized that although I couldn’t help him, someone else could. I hired an instructor to give him a private lesson. And with focused, personal, one-on-one instruction, my son finally skied down that hill.

I was lucky to find a private instructor so late in the day. More importantly, I was blessed to have been given the insight to ask for help. It still surprises me how often I try to fix things myself when all I have to do is pray and listen. God is there, all the time, ready to guide us and to strengthen us with his grace.

“Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.... Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your Good Spirit lead me on level ground...for I am your servant.” (Psalm 143.) Amen.

Martha Olson

Monday, February 19, 2007

Hebrews 1:1-14

Some of us may be familiar with the “Mr. Bean” series from British television in the early 1990s. A truly odd yet often hilarious character, Mr. Bean appeared at the opening of each episode by dropping from the night sky in a beam of light and landing on an empty London street. This entrance onto the scene only heightened Mr. Bean’s singularity.

Many may view Jesus as something like Mr. Bean: a singular point in history; strange and rather out of touch with the world and regular life. In this perspective, Jesus seems to have come out of nowhere. His brief life flashed through Palestine under Roman occupation. Then he cruelly died through the collusion of Jewish and Roman authorities. A vague brightness lingers as an after image in the history of the world and perhaps in our personal lives, but otherwise he seems largely irrelevant to daily life.

The author of the treatise we call “Hebrews” knew differently. He knew Jesus to be crucial in the plan of God and the meaning of our lives: both in the day to day and in the end; then, now, and ever. Jesus focuses and culminates all that God has done and will do in loving and restoring people, first in Israel, then in the church, and finally in the entire world.

Jesus is singular, but not because he dropped out of the night sky on a beam of starlight one December long ago. Born of the Holy Spirit, he is singular because he expressly images and radiates the very being of God in the world. Born to a young Jewish woman in a Palestinian stable, he is also singular because he completely identifies with us in our living and our dying. When we see Jesus, we see God, and we see ourselves. He is truly divine and truly human. Hence, the opening of Hebrews soars with God’s grandeur and Jesus’ significance for the world!

So we cannot reduce Jesus to an irrelevance. We may choose to ignore or reject him. Yet we may not relegate him to a vague point in time long ago, or at best to just another in a set of good people in the history of the world. All things hold together in Jesus. He sustains all things. Or they fall apart. What will it be for our lives and our world?

Gregory Strong

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Hebrews 12:18-29

Many on-line accounts now require you to answer a challenge question like “Your mother’s maiden name” or “Your pet’s name” as a security precaution prior to accessing your on-line information. This week I had to create a new account and one of the challenge question options was “Your first friend”. A high school friend came to mind and as I entered his name, I decided to see if I could find out where he was. In a manner of minutes, I had an e-mail address for him. We have now exchanged messages and are in the process of renewing a 20-year old friendship. Good friends are an investment that lasts.

It is interesting that this just happened, because one of the messages I heard from today’s reading is that God will do a shaking and only those things that cannot be shaken will remain. In this same vein, Matthew 6:19-21 tells us,

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

We have many choices in how we invest our resources, many options in where we expend our energies. It is important to remember that there will be a day when our actions and choices will be judged. We can allow this to temper our behavior and be a guide to help us invest wisely.

Alan Davenport

Friday, February 16, 2007

1 Timothy 5:17-25

As a member of the Vestry, I was very interested in this particular reading. In this letter from Paul to Timothy, as Timothy was trying to shepherd the new Christian church in Ephesus, Paul is giving instruction as to how to handle the “elders” of the Church. Oh what I wouldn’t give for a modern day letter from Paul to our Vestry members telling us what to do!

Of course, we have our Scripture which describes how elders are to lead, and there are many verses on this issue. In fact, they are overwhelming when looking at both the Old Testament and New Testament in regards to rules and laws. You could spend your entire term on the Vestry getting to know these verses and what they mean to you.

Paul says in his letter to Timothy (paraphrased) to be careful about judging the elders and he cites Scripture in making his point. Don’t accept an accusation unless you have two or three witnesses. It’s amazing that, in some cases, not much has changed in 2000 years when it comes to the human spirit. On the other hand, Paul makes clear that any Elder who persists in sin must be publicly rebuked. How horrible would that be today? Probably just as bad as in those days I would venture to guess.

I must tell you that the responsibility of being a Vestry member weighs heavily. But, for me, the predominant weight comes not from the time and energy the job takes, but from the fear of not being able to discern and fulfill that which God would have me do during my term.

I went to Episcopal Church Camp in the summers in California when I was young. We had a “Winnie the Pooh Tree” in which secret messages, written backwards, would be waiting for us every now and again, particularly when we were homesick. These messages meant so much to us. What I wouldn’t give to be able to take a walk, put my hand into the hollow of a tree and pull out a written explanation of what God would have us do for St. Matthews!

So, I would ask that you keep your entire Vestry in your prayers as you read these verses from 1st Timothy. May our “good works be conspicuous” so that you can rest assured that St. Matthews is on the right track.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, February 15, 2007

1 Timothy 4:1-16

There is so much in this passage. Where do I start?

With the intriguing line, “4For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving;”? I could easily write of my own need to wake up to holiness and sacredness in ordinary, everyday places where it is all too easily missed. Maybe you would benefit from this too?

Or how about “train yourself in godliness”? Training is something I know a fair amount about, and the analogy to the spiritual life is a rich one. We don’t simply try to be good Christians, we train ourselves for godliness. We structure our lives and commit ourselves to the regular practice of disciplines that inevitably produce a desired result. What does our training regime look like? How good are we at sticking to it?

Or maybe I should focus on the command “do not neglect the gift that is in you.” What is the one thing that really matters—our single best chance to impact the world with the love of Christ? What is our gift, and how are we developing it and employing it? We are all so very busy, with so much on our plate—it is all too easy to neglect not only our specific gift (whatever it may be) but also service in general.

There is so much in this passage. What is God saying to you?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

1 Timothy 3:1-16

As with many of Paul’s letters, today’s passage contains a list. Some of his lists provide commands of things we are to do (e.g., Romans 12:9-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:14-22) and some provide warnings of behavior we are to avoid (e.g., Galatians 5:19-21; Colossians 3:8-9). Today’s list provides characteristics of those who would be leaders in the church. However, with perhaps only a few exceptions, it speaks to how every Christian is to behave. Paul himself alludes to this in verses 14–15: “…I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household.

I have to be careful when reading such lists for I often run the risk of missing what’s being communicated. It becomes easy to skim over the list of items and not pay attention to what any of them mean. In other cases, I may overlook or dismiss only some of the more bothersome, er, challenging items. And through the simple process of rounding up the law of averages, I may claim an entire list of attributes by being able to claim at least have of them.

For example, I can claim the following: I am the husband of but one wife, I am (usually) respectable, I’m able to teach (sometimes), I’m not given to drunkenness (anymore), I’m not (always) quarrelsome and (for the most part) I’m not a lover of money. Since I can “check off” half of the list (even if only occasionally) it should be clear that I’m cut out to be an overseer.

The problem of course is that I’m twisting the Scriptures to suit my own selfish purposes. In so doing, I put myself in authority over God by deciding to which passages I’ll acquiesce. Clearly that will not work for then everyone would feel free to decide which portions of Scripture they’ll follow and which they can freely ignore. Sadly, many of the problems the church faces today can be traced to exactly this kind of thinking. Perhaps it would do us good to read those lists a little bit more carefully (and skip the rounding up of averages).

Dear Lord, we thank You for the gift of Your most precious word. Help us to value it as the treasure it is. Give us a thirst for it and use it to change our hearts to be in alignment with Yours. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Mark Vereb

Monday, February 12, 2007

1 Timothy 1:18-2:8

Daily Devotional – Tuesday Feb.13, 2007
1 Timothy 1:18-2:8
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

Today’s reading is a short and very direct pastoral letter providing instruction to Timothy a young Priest. Though Paul knew Timothy’s parents, the letter was probably not written by Paul but by an admirer of Paul who believed that Paul would approve. Timothy later joined Paul in his ministry and continued to minister after Paul was arrested in Rome.
The purpose of the letter is to give instruction in worship and church administration.

The writer offers Timothy these instructions so that he can.. “fight the good fight having faith and a good conscience”. The extension of this is that a guilty conscience will be a wall between us and God. Whereas Jesus provides a link to God, a guilty conscience can break that link. I am sure you would agree that a clear conscience is a truly wonderful thing and something we all strive for. Guilt on the other hand can destroy. It creates insecurity and the defensive behavior that goes with it. It isolates us from those around us and also from God. I have learned that my own bad behavior breeds more bad behavior.

As a sinner, I am guilty. The burden of sin weighs on my conscience. I am aware of my sin because Jesus has set the standard of God’s expectations of me. It was not until Jesus Christ entered my life that I was aware of my own sin and my own conscience. However, it was also not until Jesus Christ entered my life that I realized that my sins are forgiven. In my daily prayers I thank God for his love and forgiveness. I ask God for the strength to resist sin in all its forms. I also thank God for providing a living example in Jesus Christ. With this example in front of me, I know when I stray. My conscience tells me. It is through my simple prayers that my conscience is cleaned. I am blessed to have friends and family around me who know my weaknesses and short comings and love me anyway. God is ever present in those people. Praise God!


John Dickie, Feb.13, 2007

1 Timothy 1:1-17

With today’s reading we embark on the first of two letters from Paul to Timothy. In the New Testament, the two letters to Timothy precede Paul’s letter to Titus. Many have grouped and characterized these three as the “pastoral epistles.” They deal less with theological issues and more with practical matters of Christian existence, especially the organizational life of a Christian community.

Paul sent this letter to Timothy to strengthen him in his faith and the exercise of his spiritual gifts. Those gifts included service to the church through preaching and teaching. The church or Christian community in Ephesus needed Timothy’s gifts. Some members had begun to meander in fruitless speculations, false doctrines, and wayward practices, even to the point of diverging from the true good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Paul wrote to help Timothy bolster the faith and lifestyle of the Ephesian Christians, especially their corporate life, so they would honor Jesus and manifest him to the non-believers around them.

We can gain much practical, godly instruction from this letter and the other pastoral letters. Additionally, we can perceive how easily we can go awry from the good news and from new and holy life in Jesus. The problems that believers in Ephesus faced too often also plague us: sin in our relationships; hearts and minds straying from Jesus; tempting, speculative ideas and philosophies; and more. I am reminded of a poignant confession in the old hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”: “…prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.”

Yet more, we can and must take to heart God’s abundant, overflowing grace. Paul reminded Timothy of his (Paul’s) former fervent opposition to Jesus and the good news. Worst of sinners! Nevertheless, God loved Paul to death (his old self apart from Jesus) and loved him to life (his new self in Jesus). God, who gave himself to us unreservedly in Jesus, knows no shortage of grace, love, and power to change.

Prone to wander? Prone to leave? Surely, sad to say. So we must come to God in utter clarity and honesty about ourselves. But come to God we must. There we find illimitable and glorious mercy, at the foot of the cross, at the rolling away of the stone of our sin in the dawn of an empty tomb and new life.

Gregory Strong

Saturday, February 10, 2007

2 Timothy 4:1-8

Have you ever gone to a restaurant where they serve fresh baked bread or chips and salsa while you wait for your meal? It tastes great, especially when you’re hungry and have to wait for your meal. But, many times, we’re already full before they serve us the meal we ordered. We know the starters or appetizers will fill us up so we can’t enjoy the meal – even it it’s the best meal we’ve ever imagined - but the food is there and it’s enjoyable so we eat it anyway.

On a similar note in today’s reading, Paul talks about “times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food” (The Message). Today, as in Timothy’s time, many people are searching to find meaning in their lives. If we listen to the news, read magazines, there always seems to be something new (or just newly popular) for people to try. They may be attracted to a philosophy or program because someone famous is practicing it. But it can’t be too difficult or get in the way of their life styles.

Paul tells Timothy to be persistent and steady in preaching God’s message. He also tells Timothy to encourage and have patience in his teaching. It’s not easy to hear the truth that we are sinners. It’s also not easy to acknowledge that we have no control over our salvation. We have to open our hearts to Jesus, accept the fact that He is our Savior and turn control over to Him. But once we let Jesus in, we come to the realization that it really wasn’t that difficult. And it’s comforting to know that someone much more powerful, wise and compassionate is in control.

Friday, February 09, 2007

II Timothy 3:1-17

How do I make God’s desires, my desires? Paul himself struggled with this. He starts this chapter with a description of people’s actions in the last days (rash, unforgiving, loving pleasure rather than loving God, …very convicting!). He talks about people who are “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” in verse7. This means people who listen to the message of Christ but don’t allow Him to change their hearts, but verse 7 struck me, as I like to learn, but how much of it makes me into a kinder person?

A couple times in this chapter Paul talks about deceivers. As mentioned above, he says deceivers gain control of “weak-willed women who are loaded down with sins, “ and who are “always learning but are never able to acknowledge the truth” (verse 6-7). He warns against deceivers again in verse 13. He then goes on to tell us how not to be deceived, and our weapon against deception is the Word of God; Scripture.

We find in Scripture our weapon against the many things that Satan would throw at us. I love this familiar ending of this chapter, “All Scripture is God breathed…” (verse 16) and if we heed it, then , our desires will be God’s desires. We will be ready for every good work. (v 17). If we have a disagreement, love each other. Be patient. Remember what we have learned from Paul’s love of God, Moses’ determination not to go anywhere unless God went with him, and other examples. I thank God for Scripture.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

2 Timothy 2:14-26

In today’s reading, we find three metaphors for the Christian life: an unashamed worker, a clean vessel, and a gentle servant. Although we are only going to look at the last metaphor here, one would do well to reflect on all three.

If you are like me, when you think of being a servant, you think of humility and action. But it is interesting here that service is linked to kindness and words. The gentle servant is the one who is more concerned with another’s welfare than being right.

Being the astute readers you are, you may well object that in matters of faith and morals, being right is the best way to promote another’s welfare. Perhaps. But if we care about being right so much that the other is unable to hear what we are saying, we haven’t done them much good. As we said on Sunday, people don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.

Or as many people have noted over the years in relation to husbands and wives, “What would you rather be: right or married?” This sentiment could be expanded to all long term relationships, whether with friends or coworkers or family or church members, I think. We are to care more about people than winning an argument.

Paul makes it clear that the purpose of our disagreeing is that “they may repent and come to know the truth.” That is quite a different thing than proving we are right. And it may well be a process rather than a one time deal. That is why Paul also says that we are to have patience. We would do well to take the long view, keeping the relationship going and channels for caring communication open, rather than “ruining those who are listening.”

I expect we will all have opportunity to put this truth in practice time and time again. As God's gentle servants, may our words be gracious, winsome, and full of love, this day and always.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

2 Timothy 1:15 - 2:13

In today's reading assignment we are given the last 4 verses of chapter 1 and the first 13 verses of chapter 2 of Paul's second letter to Timothy. There is quite a bit that could be said about these verses, but I am going to concentrate my comments on the reading from chapter 2.

In this letter to Timothy, Paul urges Timothy to remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ and to continue to spread His word. Paul tells Timothy that as he preaches and teaches, he will face suffering but will be able to endure. This is as true today as it was 2,000 years ago when Paul wrote this letter. I would bet that we all know individuals that think Christianity is a waste of time - that it is foolish to believe. These individuals may make fun of Christians. Now I would not think that many of us have faced the abuse that Paul was facing when he wrote this letter (after all he was in prison for his belief) but many of us have probably faced some sort of abuse in the form of name calling or being shunned because of the way we live our lives. This type of treatment can be hurtful, but Paul urges us not to let this treatment cause us to give up. "Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus." (2:3)

To illustrate his point, Paul uses three analogies - a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. All three of his examples must discipline themselves and be willing to sacrifice to achieve the results they want. Many of us may have been one, or more, of these in our life times. If you have been you know about discipline and sacrifice. Soldiers endure rigorous discipline and training and sometimes, like in Iraq or Afghanistan, might be called upon to place themselves in harm's way. Athletes must train hard, eat right, and dedicate themselves to achieving their goal. Farmers work hard to prepare the soil and tend for crops and must have the patience to wait for the crop to develop. Paul indicates that each of his examples endures because of their vision of success.

So what helps the Christian, you and me, endure? I submit it is the same thing - vision of success. The vision of loving God, loving our neighbors, spreading the Word, and one day living eternally with Him. Keep going my brothers and sisters - the prize is definitely worth it.

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

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

2 Timothy 1:1-14

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

Dear reader, may you be blessed today with God’s presence in all you do. May you also share God’s grace with those around you. This is what Paul is doing with today’s letter to Timothy. It is a beautiful letter of encouragement to a younger colleague. We can assume that Timothy is struggling and is being persecuted in some way and Paul has become aware. Paul lovingly urges Timothy to stand firm and to rekindle the gift of God that is within him.

Paul knows Timothy’s family well and obviously cares for him a great deal. He reminds Timothy that the grace that he has been given through Jesus Christ is a treasure to be guarded. He also reminds him that God’s promise of life eternal has always been there and that Jesus is present and living proof and not to be denied. It is a privilege and honor to be chosen to deliver this Gospel to the world. What ever pain and suffering is involved is nothing when compared to the gift of everlasting life without pain and suffering for eternity.

This is a bold example of elderly experience mentoring to youthful inexperience. This is something all of us late in life must do. It is expected of us. However, we must be careful how we do it. I find myself very much in this position today both personally and professionally. I see younger people struggling with the same problems and questions that I struggled with at their age. However, I must constantly be reminded that people and world and life conditions have changed. Sometimes the best mentoring is simply encouragement and support. Others must find their own answers in their own way. As a God conscious mentor I can show by my behavior that decisions and actions driven by Christ’s example are the right ones; just as Paul does with Timothy.


John Dickie

Monday, February 05, 2007

Galatians 6:11-18

Coming to the end of his letter to the Galatian Christians, Paul summarized in his own handwriting his primary purposes in writing. Apparently an amanuensis or secretary had written down Paul’s thoughts to this point. Now Paul took over to emphasize his message.

Advertising, marketing, and public relations inundate our culture: business; education; politics; sports; and even churches. What appeals to people? How can our product, service, or idea be packaged and presented attractively to draw people in and win them over to make the purchase or join our side? How can we tailor language and image to lower resistance, touch a felt need, and sometimes even beguile?

Let us then read carefully the end of this letter. What message did Paul emphasize to the Galatians and indeed to all to whom he witnessed? Crucifixion! Paul pledged to advertise, market, and publicly relate nothing more nor less than the crucifixion of Jesus, and the critical need for us to be incorporated into Jesus’ crucifixion: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

This is the gospel: the cross of Jesus Christ! No one in Jesus’ day would have understood a cross as a piece of jewelry, a gilded symbol on a Bible or prayer book, a brilliant stained glass image, or anything of beauty. With deep shudders, they would have known a cross to be one of the most horrible evils invented and exacted by human beings on other human beings.

This – Jesus’ death by torture at the hands of political and religious powers, all because of our sin – is what Paul straightforwardly proclaimed in person and by letter. The saving death of Jesus is the one and only good news, above and even against all financial, philosophical, political, psychological, or spiritual advertisements to some other “good news” or good thing that will revolutionize our lives and satisfy us in heart, mind, or body. The only news that counts as truly good, as Paul affirmed and embodied, is new creation through death and resurrection in Jesus.

When we speak and act in the name of Jesus, what message do we live and present as God’s good news for us and for all people?

Gregory Strong

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Hebrews 12:1-6

Hard words from today's reading made me stop and think about our walk of faith.

Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (v1)
We will have to make deliberate choices to lay aside thoughts, ideas, and habits that make it difficult to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (v1)
Our walk of faith will require determination. There will be opportunities to stray from the marked path, slow down, or even stop. It is our choice to maintain our forward progress.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (v 4)
Temptation to sin will always lurk at our hearts door and sometimes it will be very difficult to resist this temptation. It is our choice on whether or not we exert great effort to resist.

Do not make light of the Lord's discipline” (v 5)
Our actions have consequences and there are costs associated with our wrong choices. The Lord must discipline us in order to help us correct our mistakes. It is an unloving father that does not correct a child’s error. It is our choice on how we respond to the Lord’s discipline.

Do not lose heart when he rebukes you” (v 5)
Punishment is a difficult pill to swallow but there will be times when our thoughts, words, action, or inaction is in direct opposition to God. It is our choice to take our medicine without losing heart.

Taken by themselves these words do not portray the full message of God’s nature nor do they reveal the complete picture of a life of faith, but they do speak to some of the choices that we are required to make.

May we be people of faith making right choices.

Alan Davenport

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Galatians 5:25 - 6:10

I was going to go in an utterly different direction with this, until I saw the short film, "Luggage", part of the NOOMA series, the other day. Like the travelers departing from and arriving at Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan, we are each transporting our stuff along the way. Some of us travel lightly; some of us bear the accumulated weight of what has been done to us, or what we ourselves have done, or just what simply happened to us, on the journey.

Business travelers, more often than not, are solo artists in the flight line. But we, like the church at Galatia, are members of a community of the Spirit. We are bound to one another in a way that random travelers, thrown together by a coincidence of flight schedules, cannot be. We can bear one another's burdens, we can thus "fulfill the law of Christ" as Paul describes it, but that shared burden is what also enables each of us to answer a unique call to the work of the Spirit.
The Spirit, the eternal pneuma, is calling us to live, to be guided, to restore, to be gentle, to share, to sow. NOW is the time for us not to weary of all the things that weigh upon us, all the contentiousness that the media feast upon, and keep moving forward to work for the good of all.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Galatians 5:16-24

As has been noted in other devotionals that precede this entry, Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians to oppose the way that they were clinging to the old laws of Judaism instead of accepting Christ and the new gospel of love and redemption. In today’s readings, Paul states his point clearly: If you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law because you are living in the freedom given to you through the gospel of Christ. The old laws of Judaism are laws of the flesh and represent enslavement. In fact, in today’s readings, Paul equates people who live by the law, who thought of themselves as righteous, with people who live by the flesh.

This had to be a difficult argument to hear for the Galatians. The laws had been drilled into them and the generations before them as direct instructions from God. If you read the earlier books of the Old Testament there is certainly a litany of laws laid down by God as He led the Israelites to the Promised Land. Why did He do that if He was only going to reverse Himself later?

This is dealt with more in Paul’s letter in Galatians 3, but is worth exploring further here as well. After reading a few studies on this issue, I believe God gave the law to the Israelites to set the stage for the arrival of Christ and the opportunity for conversion. I also believe God continues to do this in our lives as well. Even if we have already experienced conversion, God continually gives us opportunities to stay on course, just as He did to the Israelites throughout the generations leading to Christ’s ministry on earth. But, these opportunities are not the end-all but rather the means to get to the end – which is salvation in Jesus Christ.

The real issue for all of us, just as it was for the Galatians, is to see those opportunities and act upon them. To do this, we must be vigilant and we must be diligent and intentional in our desire to discern God’s will for us. We must live by the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, as Paul explains. This is the only way to live within the freedom given to us through the gospel of Christ.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Galatians 5:1-15

When I was growing up, one of my favorite books was called No Fighting, No Biting! Mostly, I think I liked it because it was the story of two alligators (Light-foot and Quick-foot), but the basic message clearly got through as well as I remember it to this very day!

And it remains an important message even now. In my family there were five kids, and I can still hear my mother’s constant refrain, “No fighting, no biting!” Clearly, if there were occasions to disagree in a family of five, there are going to be even more such occasions as the number of people we are in relationship with increases. St. Matthew's Episcopal Church is a family of several hundred people (if you are not from St. Matthew’s you can think of your own church, family, place of work ,neighborhood, etc). The apostle Paul says, “No fighting, no biting!”

I’m also struck that consuming somebody through biting is to devour them one small bit at a time. It’s not a pretty picture, but I think it accurately captures all the little niggling ways we negatively relate to each over that over time become are so hurtful and destructive.

Yes, there will be conflicts. But that doesn’t mean we need to resort to violence, using our words as instruments aggression, speaking in such a way that we hurt or wound or disrespect our brothers and sisters in Christ. What a powerful line verse 13b is: Through love, become slaves to one another. Slaves are bound to their masters. In other words, our freedom from the law of which Paul has been writing does not free us from our bonds to each other in Christ. We’d best learn to get along.

And that means: No fighting, no biting!