Saturday, March 31, 2007

Jeremiah 31:27-34; Psalms 137, 144; Romans 11:25-36; John 11:28-44

Over the course of our lives when something tragic happens, we tend to hear people say, “Life is short.” It is a familiar sentence with which most of us can identify and agree. For a few days after a tragedy, we vow to remember this phrase and live our lives accordingly. But then life “happens,” and we forget all about this short, three word sentence. This is the real tragedy!

In Psalm 144:3-4 we are reminded: “Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.” In essence, we are here on this earth for a very short period of time. Some how, some way, we have to take whatever time, whatever means, to make ourselves really understand the depth of this very short but powerful verse. This can not only be done when we are around a tragedy. To go through life unconsciously is not acceptable. We have to consciously make the decision to live our life for our Lord everyday. This consciousness means being “fully present” with him on a daily basis for the small bit of time we have on this earth.

How can this be done? For goodness’ sake, we are all overworked, overstressed, and spread so thin that we are about to burst! Many demands are put on us by our families, jobs, neighbors, church, and more. We don’t want to disappoint anyone so we try to meet all of these demands to the point of exhaustion, causing us to just get through life. But it is only by taking the time to value and act on Psalm 144 that we can begin to live our life as the Lord wanted us to. We can not waste time on unimportant, valueless things. Rather, we need, on a daily basis, to spend time with the Lord. He is the only one who can give our life the meaning and purpose that the inner core of our soul desires. My hope and suggestion are that you stop today and really ponder the saying “Life is short” in order to truly live a fulfilling life through the Lord.

Chris Hallett

Friday, March 30, 2007

Jeremiah 29:1-13; Psalm 22; Romans 11:13-24; John 11:1-27

Today’s society places a high value on how successful a person is. We often measure people by how much stuff they have, how high they have risen in their profession, or how important their work is as compared to the work of others. It seems to me the theme common to all of today’s readings is God’s reminder to us to always be humble.

Jeremiah’s letter to those sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon instructs the people to settle peacefully in this land and raise their families. They were told to serve their masters well, for they were actually going into a period of slavery. By helping their masters prosper, they would be doing God’s work, and they would prosper themselves. God had a plan for them that would be revealed to them in his own time. They were to be humble and trust in the Lord.

Psalm 22 has the phrase we all know so well from the words repeated by Christ during the Easter story, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The words first appeared in this psalm, and the psalmist makes many references to being despised by others and subjected to many trials and tribulations. However, the psalmist notes that God does not disdain the weak and the afflicted. In fact, God cares for those most in need, and it is through the strength manifested in this care that the rich and powerful are often brought to their knees. We are reminded that it is all right to be less than perfect because there is really only one all powerful being. God does not forsake those who turn to him in humility and obedience.

The reading from John relates the story we are so familiar with of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead. The important part of this story is that Jesus did not raise Lazarus just because he had the power to do it. That would have been for his own glorification. Instead, he raised Lazarus in recognition of Martha’s humble faith and her witness that Jesus was indeed “the resurrection and the life.” He raised Lazarus as an example that, with faith, all things are possible.

I have gone slightly out of order by saving the passage from Romans for last because I especially like this passage. It reminds of what I truly find most appealing about the Episcopal Church and, in particular, our own congregation. The welcoming nature we show to all: the poor, the rich, the fallen, the pious, the young or the elderly, single-married, divorced. It seems we are a microcosm of the society of the world around us. The passage from Romans uses a grape vine as a metaphor for Christian society. If one of us is holy, then we all are holy. The stem does not exist without the root to support it, and the root does not survive without the branches to feed it. John cautions us not to set ourselves above the others who have come to Christianity after us. He refers to the kindness shown to us by God and reminds us that such kindness exists because of the kindness we ourselves show to others. We should accept others in our midst who are perhaps less than perfect when measured by our human and thus imperfect measures. For Christ died to redeem us from all of our sins. He knew that we were all imperfect, but he gave his life that we might all become perfect. How can we ever repay such a debt? I would suggest it is repaid one small step at a time, starting with being humble and recognizing we are all equal in the eyes of the Lord.

Darrell Breed

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Jeremiah 26:1-16; Psalms 131, 132, 133; Romans 11:1-12; John 10:19-42

When I was a child, I dreamed that heaven would be a huge library where I would have the leisure to read every book in the world ever written. As time has passed, that dream has grown to a wider idea of Paradise, one with plenty of trees and sunlight and all my dear friends and family to be with.

But ultimately, I have come to realize that this is a very self-centered view of heaven. Heaven is not to be a place where humans can get everything they want. Or rather it is, but who amongst us, if we examine ourselves with perfect honesty will not say that what they actually want, beneath the layers of materialism and selfishness, is unity? All people want to be a part of something larger than themselves – two rather than one, or thousands rather than two. Everyone wants to be so unified with someone that they will understand them perfectly. Most people turn to other people or organizations for such companionship, but as Christians we must recognize that no human can fulfill that need for unity perfectly. Only God can and does. Having created us, he knows the pattern of ourselves better than even we do.

Psalms 131, 132, and 133 are all cries from men to be unified with God. They brim with longing for his presence and blessings. And God replies that he will give them all they ask and more, that he will remain amongst the men who love him forever, beside their selves and inside their hearts. He promises that the men who love him will dwell with him forever in heaven, not with the things they think they want, but with what they actually crave: the unity and understanding that come with everlasting life given in perfect love.

O our God, we pray that you strengthen us in the constancy of our faith, that at the end of days we may join you in perfect unity for your glory. Amen.

Kate Strong

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Jeremiah 25:30-38; Psalm 119:145-176; Romans 10:14-21; John 10:1-18

In the reading from John, Jesus tells the Pharisees about a shepherd protecting and caring for his sheep. He describes how his sheep respond to his call because they recognize his voice. Pharisees don’t get the point of Jesus’ story, so he explains it in very clear terms. Twice, Jesus tells them he is the gate through which they “may have life and have it abundantly.” Twice, he tells them that he is the good shepherd, the one who will lay down his life for his sheep.

In Psalm 119, the psalmist beautifully expresses his longing for a relationship with God.

“I’m homesick, God, for your salvation;
I love it when you show yourself!
Invigorate my soul so I can praise you well,
Use your decrees to put iron in my soul.
And, should I wander off like a lost sheep – seek me!
I’ll recognize the sound of your voice.” (The Message, verses 174 – 176.)

Jesus is the good shepherd, and he did lay down his life for us. He had a choice, and he could have decided to let us pay the price for our sins. But his love for us is so huge that he chose to go through rejection and suffering, to take on our sins, so we could experience a relationship with God and live life abundantly. To Jesus, we are worth the sacrifice. It’s hard to imagine a love so great.

We have a choice, too. Jesus lets us decide whether or not to let him into our lives. On the surface, that choice sounds relatively simple. But that’s not always the case. Some of us have to experience life without Jesus before we’re willing to open our lives to him and ask him to be our Lord. When we do take the chance, it’s worth it.

Sue Reier

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Jeremiah 25:8-17; Psalms 120, 121, 122, 123; Romans 10:1-13; John 9:18-41

Greetings, dear reader. With Lent comes the opportunity to look deeply into the condition of our spiritual health. It is a time to take spiritual inventory and to refill the shelves where necessary. There is also a sharpened sense of urgency. The judgment is coming, and we don’t have much time. It is a time to ignore distractions and to cleanse ourselves of those living patterns that divert our attention from our spiritual preparation for Easter.

Today’s readings each in their own way provide assistance with assessing our spiritual state of health. It starts with Jeremiah saying that God’s wrath will rain down on his people because they have not been faithful. The wrath will come in the form of Nebuchadnezzar and his army. This destruction and desolation will last a generation (70 years). God’s people did not heed the warnings, and they will pay the price of unfaithfulness.

The four psalms are pleas for help and protection. They acknowledge that our only protection is in the Lord. Psalm 121 is the beautiful hymn of consolation that “the Lord will keep you from all evil.” These are very comforting words following Jeremiah’s prophecy of doom. The psalms provide the answer as to where our relief comes from, but they do not provide the “how” of securing this relief.

The New Testament readings provide the “how” of securing the Lord’s protection. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he reminds us that salvation is only available through faith and belief in Jesus Christ and cannot be achieved through the law alone. I am reminded of the simple saying that “Good thoughts will result in good actions” and not the other way around. I only wish I had learned this simple fact earlier in life. Our salvation is guaranteed only after we inwardly believe in our hearts that Jesus Christ came to earth to save us, and it is only when we confess this belief that we are truly saved.

As I prepare for Easter I pray that God will give me the strength to acknowledge my sins, and strengthen my belief that my help is in the Lord. I also pray that my eyes may see the glory of the Lord through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

John Dickie

Monday, March 26, 2007

Jeremiah 24:1-10; Psalm 31; Romans 9:19-23; John 9:1-17

In Psalm 31, David cries out to God, “My times are in your hands.” David experiences a great deal of distress in his life and feels the persecution from those around him. His strength fails him and his bones grow weak. But David doesn’t give in. He trusts in the Lord with all his heart to deliver him, save him, lead him, guide him, and love him.

After a somewhat stressful year, I had to turn to God when I realized I could not do it alone. My strength failed me, and my bones grew weak. So many things I wanted to change, but I had no control in changing any of it. What I did, or didn’t do, did not seem to make a difference at all. It was then that I realized God is in charge now. All my time, energy, worry, planning, suggesting, demanding and sacrificing were not working. I was forced to trust God, forced to put God in charge and pray for my concerns and circumstances.

In Romans 9, God is showing us that he is all powerful and knowing. Like Jesus the potter who crafts each pot individually, God forms each one of us with his plan for our lives in mind. All we need to do is trust in him. How often do we turn over a concern to God, only to take it back into our own hands? Unfortunately I do this all the time, but I know God is working with me in developing my trust in him. Like David said, “My times are in your hands.” God and I know even though things don’t look good or feel good right now, you have a plan for me that is good because you are my Lord and Savior, and I trust in you.

Heavenly Father, I pray that for this new year no matter what life holds, you have a plan for us, and that we find comfort and peace knowing you have designed us to successfully meet each challenge and in the process bring you all the glory. May we never hold on for long but commit our circumstances and our souls to you. Praise God! “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Sharon Ferguson

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Jeremiah 23:16-32; Psalm 118; 1 Corinthians 9:19-27; Mark 8:31—9:1

It’s interesting how often we attempt to rationalize. Everything we do has to have an explanation, even if it’s something as trivial as explaining why we don’t want to go out to see a movie. “If only we can justify ourselves,” we say, “if only we have a good reason for doing this, or saying that, then we’ll be okay.” Unfortunately, as everyone who’s ever had a relationship with a human being knows, even the very best explanation can’t save you sometimes.

In today’s reading from Jeremiah, God warns us against those “false prophets” who reassure the world that everything will be okay. They are the rationalizers, the knowledgeable men and women who explain to us that there’s nothing dark lurking in the closet, that there are no gleam and flash of tooth and claw beneath the bed. “As long as you act with good reason,” they counsel us, “no harm will come to you.” But any child can tell you that monsters do exist, though they are often locked and chained (and not so securely) behind our eyes, our ears, our lips – their touch blistering and scalding our souls in the places no one can see.

The world might not consider certain actions, certain sins, to harm us. We know otherwise. No matter how much we rationalize our actions, there will always be consequences. Even if we manage to convince our friends, families, and even ourselves that we act rightly, it can still not be enough. Sometimes we can’t even rationalize what is right. Sometimes we just know, somehow, deep inside our bones, what God is telling us to do.

I’m not saying that I don’t like logic, because I do. I like it when I can reason things out and come to a conclusion. It gives me a measure of control. Unfortunately, what we so often forget is that we can’t always be in control – we aren’t always in control – but God is. We have to trust him, to listen to his word, knowing that he is always there and can see all the inside-ups and upside-outs of everything we’ll ever say and do. As stated in Mark and 1 Corinthians, this often requires sacrifice and diligence. God’s way is very rarely easy, and it is usually hard to rationalize, especially to all of those “false prophets” of the world. But, in the end, the Word of God soothes the soul far more than the logic of this world, and brings a far greater measure of peace.

Christine Merola

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Jeremiah 23:9-15; Psalm 107:33-43, 108; Romans 9:1-18; John 6:60-71

“Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” (Rm. 9:18.)

Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.” (Jn. 6:65.)

I am a bit of a control freak. At a minimum, I like to think that I am in charge of what is happening to me. Then I usually extrapolate that concept to some extent onto the people around me that I interact with on a regular basis who I depend upon (or who depend upon me). In other words, I think other people are in charge of what is happening to themselves as well. While we may influence one another as we accomplish work together and maintain relationships with one another, my initial philosophy is that everyone decides autonomously, and has total freedom of choice when determining the meaning and purpose of their own life. The age-old debate about free will versus predestination persists, and today’s readings underscore what a fool I am to think that we are in charge.

Obviously, God is in charge. We don’t choose God, but rather he chooses us. It is not possible to do enough good to win God’s favor, or even begin to balance out the bad. Christ died for our sins, and that’s it. The “Popeye Sermon” that Father Rob presented last year about becoming energized when “I can stands what I can, but I can’t stands no more!” underscores all the motivation that I should require to try and eat some spinach and make a difference. But the fact is, it isn’t me at all (and it’s not even the spinach), but God who is using me to carry out his will. In fact, I don’t even like spinach that much.

There are many problems and troubles that go along with being in charge. It often creates a lot of anxiety, worry, and fear that causes stress, which can then sometimes lead to destructive behaviors to relieve the stress. So after today’s readings, I kind of like the idea of letting God be in charge. I just wish he didn’t make me such a control freak. Is it up to him or up to me to change that? The age-old debate about free will versus predestination persists.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Jeremiah 23:1-8; Psalm 102; Romans 8:28-39; John 6:52-59

Reading today’s passages, one might interpret that they are somewhat preoccupied with death. Indeed, we are reminded that we are but sheep for the slaughter (Rm. 8:36), sheep that haven’t been lead well by our civic leaders or “pastors” (Jer. 23:1-2). Indeed the psalmist laments his pending death, “My days are like a shadow that declineth (Ps. 102:11).

However, by its very nature death brings us, as Christians, to the promise of everlasting life. It is the greatest promise ever, and a promise that can not be broken. As the Romans passage questions us, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” The conclusion is that nothing can.

But as John reminds us, there is only one way to Christ. That is through faith and belief in Jesus Christ as the Savior and Son of God. One way we show this faith is through the breaking of bread and drinking of his blood. Indeed, we cannot be saved and resurrected without partaking of Christ’s body and blood. Think of this. Were this any other man or woman, any time in history, that said something like this, it would be gruesome. (And in fact it initially angered the Jews; Jn. 6:52.) Yet now we take solace, even joy, in such a communion that brings us closer, even makes us a part of our Lord, and he a part of us.

At no time do I feel more a part of a greater body, than during communion. I look through the church and see so many wonderful people. I am surrounded by my family and those that I love, as well as those that love me. I think of loved ones that have departed the earth, and know I will be reunited with them. I truly feel a part of something larger, more important. What an incredible gift. One that should be shared with all people.

I can’t read the passages in John without practically singing one of my favorite hymns, “I Am the Bread of Life.” Singing is another way to be a member of something where the “body” is greater than the sum of its parts. Multiple voices come together to present a single message that is delivered in a way different than a soloist could. Indeed, it is a compliment to our communion, re-enforcing the feelings of a greater body. So I will leave you with a few lyrics from that hymn relevant to today’s readings.

“I am the resurrection,
I am the life.
They who believe in me,
even if they die,
they shall live for ever.
And I will raise them up on the last day.”

Jay Nogle

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Jeremiah 22:13-23; Psalm 69; Romans 8:12-27; John 6:41-51

I have been reflecting on the impact of the many events that I faced last year. God’s infinite grace has blessed me with the anticipation for joy and hope this year. The Lenten season teaches us the same principles, the joy and hope of the risen Lord!

We see in Psalm 69 a plea for help. In verses 14 through 18 the writer asks God to rescue him from deep waters, to save him from the floodwaters. Many of us have had first-hand experience with the pain of the writer and the prayer to be saved in verse 18. The trials and tribulations represented by the deep water befall us all, maybe not very often and maybe not always serious, but they occur. They may be small like arguing with your children, or they may be huge like losing a loved one, disease or cancer, or the breaking up of a marriage. It is how we choose to cope with our problems that define our future. Turning to God and asking for help are choices we can make. From the despair of the psalmist, we move to Romans where we find the result in us from God’s answer to our prayer. Paul is telling the Christians in Rome that when God lives and breathes in you, you are delivered from that despair. A new life filled with the Spirit of Christ raises us up and helps us get on with our lives. We are blessed that there is an answer to the psalmist’s plea for help.

That brings us to the gospel reading in John 6, where Jesus tells us in verses 47 and 48 that whoever believes in him will have real eternal life. “I am the bread of life,” says Jesus in verse 48. Wow! How much clearer do we need to hear that? It is the answer to the psalmist’s prayer.

This Lenten season gives us time to pause to think about the promise of the resurrection and the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Have you been in the floodwaters? Are you there right now? There is hope through Jesus. Choose to trust in him. Turn to him. And through him grow, mature, become more like him, and finally experience joy in him. Amen.

Alan Denko

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Jeremiah 18:1-11; Psalms 101, 109; Romans 8:1-11; John 6:27-40

Just as the potter uses his hands to shape his clay into a useful object, like a vase, so does God shape each of us so that we can be used for his purpose. It’s not unusual for a potter to begin shaping his clay and then realize that it is not turning out the way he wanted or the way he needs it to be. So it is with God and us. Even though we have been faithful and active in his ministry, God may see changes that need to be made within us. The ways that he can make those changes occur come in many forms.

God can touch our hearts through experiences with other people. Activities such as mission trips, outreach projects, community service, and youth ministry. By helping others in need and by allowing others to help us when we are in need, we can enable God to shape our lives to better serve him.

God can change our ways by helping us endure hardships in our own lives. These can take on many forms: changing jobs, marital problems, family issues, sickness. God promises to give us the strength and guidance to overcome any adversity, and through the experience he can mold us even more in his likeness.

All of us are the clay that God tries to mold into a beautiful vessel of his choosing, like a vase for bright spring flowers. But we must put our trust in him and allow him to mold us into that vase. We have to open our hearts so that God may come in and shape us. We must be willing to give ourselves to him and to rely on him. Give thanks to God each day for providing us the opportunities to better understand his will and desire for us. He has a glorious plan for each of us, and it is wonderful beyond our imagination. Allow him to shape and reshape you, so that like the flower vase, you too can display the beauty, grace, and love that come from our magnificent God.

Peter Hart

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Jeremiah 17:19-27; Psalms 97, 99, 100; Romans 7:13-25; John 6:16-27

Who is your king? For some, it’s money; others, power; others, fame; and still others, the desire to live the “easy” or “lazy” lifestyle. Mine is definitely people of the female gender. Women run my life, not just in the literal since of having a mother and two sisters who always have things for me to do, but in the sense that I always want to be around them, having fun, and being in a relationship is a big deal to me. So is it okay for us all to have different motivations? Or is there some universal motivator out there that should really be driving our behavior?

Writing to the Romans, Paul tells us that sin is a basic facet within us – that the earthly sinful desires we have drive our decisions and that is not good. Paul does reveal to us a central dialectical process going on within ourselves. We have the opposing forces of our sinful desires and our “inner being that delights in the law of God.” (Rom. 7: 22.) This is problematic, for in the words of the psalmist, “The Lord is King.... Everyone who worships idols is put to shame; all the gods bow down before the Lord.” (Ps 97:1, 7.) This then declares that God should be our king; he should be our primary motivation. So how does one resolve this conflict of interests? How does one put an end to the struggle between the will and laws of God and our own sinful desires and pleasures?

The answer to this is found in John, where we are told the story of Jesus walking on water during a storm, and the apostles accepting him into their boat. As he does so, the waters are calmed, and they reach the other side safely. This is an allegory for our own lives. God who brings “righteousness and fairness” (Ps. 99:4) will calm the storm of our hearts and bring peace. Jesus will give us the way safely to the shore which we wish to land upon, the Lord’s kingdom. Providing us comfort, strength, and peace, Jesus should be the primary motivator of our lives. We should all live in the spirit – praising God and doing our best to please his sight, knowing that our sinful self has died with Christ upon that cross through baptism, and thus we are free of its curse.

Alex Leach

Monday, March 19, 2007

Jeremiah 16:10-21; Psalm 89:1-18; Romans 7:1-12; John 6:1-15

In today’s readings, John recounts the story of Jesus feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish; Paul discusses how we are freed from the law; Jeremiah is to confront the Israelites with their rejection of their God; and a psalmist writes a song recalling God’s greatness and faithfulness.

At the time Psalm 89 was written, the monarchy was in ruins, the throne of David gone, and the Israelites were scattered. These were gloomy times, and some doubted that the Lord would keep his promises to David.

In the opening verses of the psalm, the writer recalls how God made the covenant with David and declares that God, in his greatness, will be faithful to His people. He proclaims how great and powerful God is. The heavens praise God’s wonders. God rules the raging seas and can calm the waters. Heaven and earth are not only his, he created them.

Life doesn’t always go according to our plans and desires. All we have to do is listen to the news to hear all the troubles and tragedies in the world – murders, war, natural disasters, famine. On a more personal level, we have challenges at work, difficult people to deal with, money issues, too many commitments and too little time, illnesses, and more. Life can be difficult. But, as the psalmist said, we can always rely on God to get us through the hard and unexpected events in our lives. God cares about every little thing, no matter how insignificant we think it might be. He wants us to trust him with everything in our lives, both the big problems and the tiny details. His answers may not be in accordance with our wishes, but he will never let us down.

As the psalmist reminds us:

“God! Let the cosmos praise your wonderful ways,
the choir of holy angels sing anthems to your faithful ways!
Search high and low, scan skies and land,
you’ll find nothing and no one quite like God.” (The Message, Ps. 89:5, 6.)

Sue Reier

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Jeremiah 14:1-9,17-22; Psalms 66, 67; Galatians 4:21-5:1; Mark 8:11-21

Lent is a sober time. It calls us to prayerful examination, confession, and repentance considering God’s holy mercy and costly grace displayed on the cross. Today’s readings illustrate the gravity of sin, the ravaging consequences it produces, and how we often are unaware of the Lord of all.

I was brought up in church, and I remember in my adolescence feeling cheated because I didn’t get to have a fling with sin before coming to Jesus. (I did not recognize then what a sinner I already was. ) I thought of sin as all that fun stuff that I couldn’t do. But life has taught me that sin is not an entertainer, but a destroyer. It drowns joy and innocence; it leaves cynicism, disappointment, and grief in their place.

Today’s readings in Jeremiah and the psalms show that sin’s consequences are not merely personal, but they extend to nations and to the natural world. But the goodness of God more than covers that same scope. Ah, the greatness of God’s mercy! God’s saving love for individual people is inextricably linked with his ultimate purpose to bring right relationship and blessed order.

How can we be part of that purpose? Remember Jesus’ claim to be “the way, the truth, and the life?” He himself is the road, the roadmap, and the destination. So let us go to him and prayerfully repent of our direct and indirect involvement in personal sin and the web of sin that corrupts our world. We do this soberly, but not morbidly, for God’s word gives us hope. “Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.” (Ps. 66:20.) We can then demonstrate mercy, love, and care such as we’ve received in Christ to the world around us.

“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.” (Ps. 67:1-3; emphasis added.)

Karen Strong

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Jeremiah 13:1-11; Psalms 87, 90; Romans 6:12-23; John 8:47-59

In reviewing the readings for today, I found one that spoke especially clearly to me. In Romans 6, verse 15, it says, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” I believe the underlying message of this passage is this: just because there is no law against something bad, it doesn’t mean we should do it.

In my life I see this every day in the form of temptation. Many times in life we are presented with an opportunity to do something bad in order to “fit in.” I think the message being conveyed in the readings today tells us otherwise. When we are presented with a situation in which a decision must be made to sin or to stay true to what we believe, we must stay true.

Later in this passage it says that when you succumb to sin you become slaves of it, and you are no longer in control of your ways, but rather sin takes over. Why would anyone ever want to be a victim of slavery? I can’t see any reason why, especially in this case where the way out is as simply as steering away from the downward slope of sin.

The way that we can find righteousness is through God. Through God we can avoid sin and be led away from temptation into eternal life. I believe the best way this can be stated is in the words of the Bible, Romans 6, verse 23, which says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus our Lord.”

Chris Palmer

Friday, March 16, 2007

Jeremiah 11:1-20; Psalm 88; Romans 6:1-11; John 8:33-47

In hectic times in life, especially the holidays, it seems there’s never enough time, never enough money, never enough energy to get what we need done. Rarely do we stop and think about what we have, or how far we have come and what got us here. Maybe if we did that more often, our aspects of life would seem different, and we would be more kind and patient.

And even when we do realize what we have, we fail to realize we have God in our lives and what he can give us. We can confide in him and ask him for help; we can follow his path in life. I think we need to have more faith in him and what he can do for us. When something doesn’t go our way, we should learn to accept it and adapt to it rather than question him and his plan. As bad as it gets, he always seems to give us enough to get through it, if we know where to look for it.

Amanda Henry

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Jeremiah 10:11-24; Psalms 42,43; Romans 5:12-21; John 8:21-32

Wow! Having just read and reread the Scripture and passages underlying this devotion bring one thing to my mind. It’s one thing I constantly struggle with in my faith and relationship with God, that being this: laying my sins and transgressions and myself out there leaving myself vulnerable and in God’s hands. There is something about needing to be in control of the situation and my surroundings that gets in the way of letting it all go and in his hands. It’s just not my nature. Maybe it’s not yours as well. If so, there is solace that it’s not just me.

To me, God’s presence abounds at times of thanks for blessing me. And oh, have I been blessed! My wife, Mary, our kids and family, friends and acquaintances, my career (and its benefits), and Saint Matthew’s are all clear visible signs that I have been blessed. His presence is usually felt even more when things aren’t going right. When I pray, lay out my sins and troubles and ask for his help, that is when I feel his presence the most. I feel more at ease, and the burden is no longer on my shoulders alone.

Each of us is unique and has talents which can be used to let God work in and through you and me. I try to help people in their daily lives by using my God-given talents to help them when they are in need. I can’t (and probably shouldn’t try) to do it all, though sometimes I do. It’s through these efforts that I see and feel God’s presence in my life. If I had one comment, it would be to leverage your talent(s) and employ them the way God would want you to, and see what a difference it can make. It’s then that I see and feel God and know he’s there. It seems to work for me.

Bob Petersen

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Jeremiah 8:18-9:6; Psalm 119:97-120; Romans 5:1-11; John 8:12-20

Salvation is a common theme in today’s readings that jumped out at me. The Old Testament reading portrays God lamenting the judgment he must pass on his people who have heard God’s word but refuse to live by it. The psalmist expresses his desire to know God’s law thoroughly so that he might experience the blessings that come to those who obey it. The passage from Romans emphasizes our relationship with Christ, as opposed to the “law,” for achieving salvation. Likewise, the reading from John emphasizes that we must come into the light of Christ, the source of life, for salvation.

In this season of Lent, we are reminded of the great love God has for us as shown by the sacrifice of his son Jesus. Jesus paid the debt for our sin, so by accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior we are assured of salvation. Accepting Jesus means that you make a conscious decision to choose light, follow Jesus’ teachings, and repent of your sins. Those who have heard God’s word but refuse to live by it are not following in the light of Christ; they face eternal darkness and condemnation.

Charlie Biegel

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Jeremiah 7:21-34; Psalm 78:1-39; Romans 4:13-25; John 7:37-52

It’s amazing what a change of perspective can do for our understanding. Imagine for a moment, a seven year old boy hearing the words, “He’s a good boy.” He overhears his father saying that about him to another adult, and he takes pride in the way that his father sees him. He hears it being said of another boy and becomes envious and acts out aggressively.

If he hears it being spoken to a new babysitter before his parents go out for the evening, he may use those words as motivation to behave well while they’re gone. If he misbehaves but hears the babysitter saying anyway, “He was a good boy,” several things would probably happen. While considering himself pretty lucky to have gotten away with it, he may also feel a certain sense of guilt (however short-lived it may be).

Of course, the boy is the same person in each of these circumstances. He hasn’t changed at all. Only the context or perspective has.

Now put yourself in the shoes of the little boy. We’re told that, thanks to the dying work of Jesus, we’re considered righteous (another word for good) in the eyes of God. At times we may take pride in knowing how God sees us. At other times, to think that someone else may be forgiven, especially for the way they acted, may very well result in a self-righteous attitude not unlike a seven year old boy’s.

Sometimes, however, we can’t see how it is possible to be considered righteous, knowing what we know about ourselves and all that we’ve done. This is where faith comes in, for we believe in “the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” (Rom. 4:17.)

Think about that for a moment: God calls things that are not as though they were! This is not a case of God lying or trying to put a good spin on things. He can call things that are not as though they were because he has the power to make them so. He created the heavens and the earth by speaking them into existence. Jesus, as God in human form, raised Lazarus from the dead simply by calling out to him. If the God of the universe can do those things, we can be “fully persuaded that God [has] power to do what he had promised” (Rom. 4:21) in calling us righteous. Allow that to change your perspective, and then delight in how God sees you.

Mark Vereb

Monday, March 12, 2007

Jeremiah 7:1-15; Psalm 80; Romans 4:1-12; John 7:14-36

These passages speak to me of listening for God and being led to do the right thing.

In Jeremiah and the passage from John I hear them saying to understand what it is to do the right thing and not just say it. I hear that 90% of the U.S. is Christian and 50% go to church. We live in the richest country in the world, but it has many homeless and poor. What is being a Christian? Isn’t this more than giving of our riches and worldly goods to “love one another as ourselves” only when it’s the leftovers after our expenses. Isn’t it about stretching ourselves: giving time when we are busy; giving instead of buying; avoiding being taken in by money, and by the feeling that if you don’t have it (whatever it is), you aren’t quite successful, happy, or even good enough? Yes, in our hearts we know that’s not what it’s about, yet…. Are you falling for it?

The psalm talks of feeding the vine and ensuring that it thrives. This, too, says to me that we must feed and nurture each other – those we know and those we don’t. We must include in this, caring for the vine that keeps us all alive, this beautiful creation of earth that God made. Spring is upon us. What a great time to plant an extra tree for oxygen and to think carefully before we drive everywhere in that large car or van using up resources. Take a walk instead!

In the reading from John, Jesus is teaching at the feast with an explanation of speaking for honor and following the Biblical law versus living the law of God’s words from the heart. This means being led to do the right thing because of your heart’s understanding of God’s intent for you, and not just doing things because you think you are supposed to or because it’s what you have left, even if knowing the difference is sometimes difficult. Following the Lord is often not the easiest choice, but it’s the right one.

Ann Lowden

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Jeremiah 6:9-15; Psalms 93, 96; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; Mark 5:1-20

In today’s Gospel, Jesus met a demon-possessed man. After casting out the demons, Jesus told the man to go tell the people in his village what Jesus had done for him – to be a witness for the Lord. Witnessing is one way to express praise to the Lord, and praise is key to proclaiming love for God.

Sometimes people go through rough patches in their life. like having a loved one die, having an extra person suddenly living in your home, or having trouble with relationships. If you are going through hard times, there are at least three things that you should remember. (1) First and foremost, God is always there for you, even though you might not be able to see him. (2) You should always praise God for everything, even if you do not think that there is anything to thank him for. There is always something that you can praise God for, even if it is just the fact that you have a home, kids, or a loving family. (3) In the roughest of patches, you speak and act in ways that affect how other people think and act, so you should try your hardest to speak and act in ways that express God’s love and be a witness to other people. Although this may seem hard, being a witness to others is a key part of spreading Christianity and even of being a Christian.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Jeremiah 5:20-31; Psalms 75, 76; Romans 3:19-31; John 7:1-13

Here is the “Berra/Twain” system of reading the Scriptures!

When it comes to applying the Scriptures to my life, I use lessons from Yogi Berra and Mark Twain. Yogi directed his players to make smart moves on the field of play. When asked how he did it, he simply said, “You can learn a lot just by watching!” In reading the Bible the “watching” part is simply looking at the plain statements in the text. And Twain observed: “I’m not so much worried about the things in Scripture that I don’t understand…. I worry about those things I understand all too well!”

So my Berra/Twain system of Scripture reading is this: Concentrate on the clearly-stated parts, and don’t get hung-up on the difficult parts. Let’s see how this system works for today’s selections.

Jeremiah 5:30. “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies…and my people love it this way.” What amazes me most about this stern message is this: “and my people love it this way.” I wonder if I care more about my own image than I do about speaking honestly and openly from my heart?

Psalm 75:7. “But it is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.” I’m comforted to know that there is a sovereign Lord who is in charge of all things. Those who get promoted or demoted – in the church or in politics – are in the hands of the Lord.

Romans 3:23, 24. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Here’s the heart of our Christian faith. It is good to keep this one clearly in mind and not try to get too sophisticated in stating my core beliefs.

John 7:8. “I am not yet going up to this feast, because for me the right time has not yet come.” The disciples were on a roll and wanted Jesus to “show himself to the world.” They knew he was the promised Messiah. Now let’s go up and take this city, Lord! It’s interesting that Jesus knew the right time had not yet come to do this. Timing is everything. When acting on good ideas make sure your timing is right.


Friday, March 09, 2007

Jeremiah 5:1-9; Psalm 69; Romans 2:25-3:18; John 5:30-47

God has all power and control and makes a way out of no way. I am writing this devotional about God’s unwavering support in time of need. It is fitting because no matter who you are at some point in your life you will need God’s help. The help may be needed in staying focused while you are preparing for final exams in college. Or God’s help is needed to provide food and shelter when you have lost your job.

Everyday God is providing help and protection for us in this world that can be brutal at times. As a veteran of the Marines, I’ve seen God’s help in time of trouble up close and personal. There is an old saying that there are no atheists in combat, and it is true. When bullets are flying around and grown men are crying and calling for their mothers, God is there. God has proven to me that he has all power, and I am truly blessed.

In Psalm 69, David is pleading for God’s help in his time of need. David confesses that he is not perfect or without sin, but he needs God’s help for guidance and protection. I believe God knows that we are not perfect, but he wants us to have all faith in him to protect us from our enemies. As Christians, I believe that we should let go of troubles and let God into our hearts to guide us.

In Jeremiah 5:1-9, God shows us the justice in his judgment. I also believe it says, God will handle your enemies the way he sees fit. Also in Romans 2:25–3:18, God is telling us that we are not the ones to judge. Only he should judge because in the end we will be judged before we enter his kingdom. So in other words, now is the time to have faith in God in good and bad times, because he will never give you more than you can handle.

Greg Johnson

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Jeremiah 4:9-28; Psalms 70, 71; Romans 2:12-24; John 5:19-29

Today’s readings have a common theme. Much has been written about this theme, not only in Scripture, but also in songs, plays, novels, and movies. The theme, of course, is good versus evil – and the need to overcome any evil in our hearts to live a life full of God’s grace.

Greek tragedies, Shakespearian plays, and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien present classic battles of good versus evil. In most of these works, we see clearly who is evil and who is good. Sometimes the good guys win. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the characters in these works make choices that lead to their demise.

Today’s passages warn us to turn away from evil. From the Old Testament reading, the price for evil in our hearts is ultimate ruin. From John’s gospel, the price is condemnation. But with God, we have hope, refuge, and deliverance. With God’s love in our hearts, we can make sure that there is no room for evil.

In our world today, I believe that real battles are being waged between good and evil. Many are small; some are monumental. We witness the struggles in our community. We see the news reports from across the world. From my own experience, it can be far too easy to succumb to temptation, large or small. Evil in this world can detour us off the path that we know is right. However, through quiet prayer and from the acceptance of God’s grace, his overwhelming love that can truly overcome evil.

To help us in our daily struggles, we have hope in the Lord. If we “wash the evil” from our hearts, we can indeed be saved. We can take refuge in God’s word and be delivered. Most importantly, with the grace of God, we will have love in our hearts. We can praise God, follow his laws, and tell others of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Today’s readings provide a sober warning to turn away from evil. Scripture guides us in accepting the grace of God. In this season of Lent, this time of quiet prayer, may God, who came into the world as Christ Jesus, be with us always, helping us choose the right path. In our acceptance of his grace, may we overcome evil and live in accordance with his word and with faith, hope, and love. Amen.

John Martin

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Jeremiah 3:6-18; Psalm 72; Romans 1:28-2:11; John 5:1-18

Have you ever watched someone be punished for something, then do the same thing yourself? How about those who drive under the influence? Stories of the horrors that can happen when people commit this act circulate around the news frequently, and yet people still commit the crime.

Judah is that drunken driver, in this respect. In Jeremiah 3:8, the Lord says, “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery.” Both Judah and Israel were moving away from God. But the Lord makes it very clear who was worse in Jeremiah 3:11, in which the Lord says, “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.” Observe that the Lord thinks Judah is worse because it had a chance to observe what happened to Israel, even though it can be assumed that Israel’s actions were the root of Judah’s.

Note that the little brother who copies your behavior is not as bad as you, despite what I’ve said above, because that child is not of equal maturity. If he were, then his actions would be worse. Therefore, when you observe the actions of others, you need to judge whether those actions are good or bad and act accordingly.

However, this seems to lead to a blatant contradiction. Throughout the Bible, it is stated explicitly several times that we should not judge. Romans 2:1 states, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” How do you resolve such a contradiction? Look at the entire statement. The Lord doesn’t just say “Don’t judge,” he says “Don’t judge because it makes you a hypocrite.” When Judah judged Israel – which it did because all humans do judge to some degree – its acts were even worse than before, because they committed those same acts. If they had been perfect, that is, if they had been God, then the judgment would have been appropriate. However, nobody is perfect, and everybody judges.

So what can we do? First, try not to think of others as less than yourself, for we all our equally imperfect in the eyes of God. Second, if we are going to judge, use that judgment to better the world. The key is this. When you observe the act of another which you judge to be unrighteous, do not be arrogant or haughty, but rather don’t copy what they are doing. Therefore, if you are wrong, your actions will be less egregious, and if you are right, the world will be a better place for it.

Jared Hallett

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Jeremiah 2:1-13; Psalms 61, 62; Romans 1:16-25; John 4:43-54

“My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” (Ps. 62:1-2.)

Psalm 62 opens with a statement of complete trust in the Lord. How we long to relax and trust so completely. Yet the psalmist goes on to express his own frustration with his weakness and frailty. Many of us deal daily with the painful, frustrating effects of physical illness or disability. We can feel the psalmist’s pain, “How long will you assault a man?” It is difficult to move beyond the sense of “Why me?” and on to live life to the fullest despite our limitations. The psalm alternates couplets of trust – “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” – with couplets of frustration. This too echoes our own vacillation between times when we can give fully and times when we are “down” and struggle with routine daily life.

We find this sense of struggle and frustration in two additional readings today. Jeremiah 2:1-13 is subtitled “Israel Forsakes God” (NIV) and ends with this: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” In John 4:43-54, Jesus heals the official’s son, yet we sense Jesus’ frustration. “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” Jesus did heal the son, “the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed.”

We can find comfort in knowing that those who came before us were able to move beyond the frustrations they felt and share their love. Sometimes it is with very small steps that we move forward. One small step leads to another. It is almost impossible to do alone. With faith in the Lord and the love of those around us, we too can know and share God’s love. I suggest we each take one step beyond the place we are today. Participate in WATCH, volunteer for an event, join a committee, take part in an outreach project, or enjoy a pizza and game night. Each small step will lead to another. You will feel God’s strength as you try each new thing. Often we do not know the direction God intended for us, and where our own strengths may lie. We will only find them if we move beyond frustration: acknowledge the pain but do not be consumed by it. Even with pain, we can feel love and share love, and we will feel better for having done so.

“One thing God has spoken.
Two things have I heard:
That you, O God, are strong,
And that you, O Lord, are loving.” (Ps. 62:11-12.)

I pray that all who join us at Saint Matthew’s will find God to be your rock and your salvation, and will “know and share God’s love.”

Merry Breed

Monday, March 05, 2007

Jeremiah 1:11-19; Psalms 56, 57, 58; Romans 1:1-15; John 4:27-42

Today’s reading in Romans opens Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. Paul had yet to visit Rome when he wrote this letter in the late 50s A.D. This introduction served the vital purpose of presenting himself to those believers, most of whom he did not know personally.

A strong theme running through this passage is identity. Paul first established his own identity: a servant and apostle of Christ Jesus (i.e., Jesus the messiah or savior). As a servant, Paul followed and obeyed Jesus. He modeled himself after Jesus’ life and teachings. As an apostle, Paul worked to make Jesus known wherever he could.

Next Paul affirmed Jesus’ identity: in his human nature, a descendant of David; in his divine nature, the Son of God. The significance of Jesus cannot be overstated. Jesus is both human and divine. He is savior and lord for us and the world.

Then Paul distilled his readers’ identity: loved by God and called to be God’s saints. In Biblical terms, “saint” signifies a person set apart for God’s holy purposes. All of God’s people, not just an elite few, are called to be saints. All are called to be dedicated to God’s purposes in the world.

Vital for us to understand is this last point, so let us play it out further. The primary, fundamental identity of the Christians in Rome lay not in being subjects of Caesar or citizens of the Roman empire. It lay in being people of God. God loved them and claimed them as his own in Jesus. God dedicated them for his good purposes in the world.

Many claims press upon us to stamp us with their identity as primary and fundamental in our lives. These include culture, society, nation, gang, gender, race, role, employment, political party, philosophical system, or the like. Such “powers,” like Rome of old, seek to claim and shape us so that we think and act as their servants and apostles.

God gives us in Lent a holy time and space to clarify and sanctify our identity. Through disciplines of worship, prayer, reflection, and sacrifice we scrutinize ourselves to locate where we find our true and compassing identity. May we, with Paul and the Christians in Rome, know deep down we are loved by God and called to be his saints – people dedicated to live Jesus into the world around us because Jesus, our savior and lord, lives deeply, truly within us.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Jeremiah 1:1-10; Psalms 24, 29; 1 Corinthians 3:11-23; Mark 3:31-4:9

Sometimes I think, “If God spoke directly to me, I’d do whatever he asks, no problem.” But would I? Look at what happens to Jeremiah. God speaks directly to him, saying, “I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” But Jeremiah, who at thirteen was certainly more devoted to God than I am at thirty, tries to get out of it. “I’m only a child,” he says. God has to remind him that he knows Jeremiah is a child; but he is God, and he knows what he’s doing.

I am in a constant internal dialogue with myself. What am I going to do at work? What will the next iPod look like? What’s for dinner? All these questions, musings, and noise. Is God calling me to do something “more” with my life? Probably, but how can I hear him over the static?

Even if I could hear my calling, like Jeremiah, I’m sure I’d have my own ideas of my capabilities. I’d show God my own résumé of insecurities; try to convince him he’d be better off finding someone else, someone more capable. I hope God would remind me, “The Lord gives strength to his people, the Lord blesses his people with peace.” (Ps. 29:11.) God would remind me he knows what he’s doing.

Dear Lord, please help to quiet my mind and open my heart to your spirit. Please help me to recognize every opportunity to serve you. Please help me recognize your voice and touch in my life. And give me strength to live the life you want me to lead.

Mason Turner