Saturday, June 30, 2007

Acts 7:30-43

There are several different points illustrated in today’s reading.

First, Moses answers God’s summons. He gives up riches, power and prestige to follow God. Moses doesn’t dwell on the past or what might have been but moves into brand new territory. His life changes drastically; both physically and in his relationship with God.

Second, God cares deeply for His people and wants to protect them and guide them. Verse 34 tells us God heard the groaning of His people and He came down to help them.

Third, Moses was rejected by the people. The Israelites didn’t trust that Moses was God’s choice to lead them. They believed that Moses would desert them so they turned to their old ways.

The fourth is related to Moses’ rejection. God’s people – His chosen ones – rejected Him. They didn’t trust that God would lead, protect and care for them. They turned to other gods and idols.

What strikes me most in this reading is how God continues to love, care and reach out to us. It doesn’t matter how poorly we treat Him or how much we hurt Him. It doesn’t matter how undeserving we are. If we ask His forgiveness and help, He welcomes us back with open arms. He provides leaders like Moses and sustenance like manna to help us through our journeys.

Thank you, Lord, for people like Moses and Abraham. Thank you for all the people you’ve brought into my life to teach me, lead me and help me to move forward in my journey with you. Amen.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Acts 7:17-29

At first glance this reading looks “just like a history lesson.” It is part of a speech delivered by Stephen, a leader of the early church, just before he was stoned by his angry listeners. It’s helpful to remember, though, a couple things; God led Stephen to remind his listeners of their history, and in addition, God inspired the writer of the book of Acts to record this history for us to read today.

It’s the story of Moses. In this time of the year when we celebrate the accomplishments of our beloved school graduates, here is Moses’ eulogy from Deut. 34:10- the Lord knew Moses face to face. It kind of makes me think. We all want to be unique, and Deut. 34:10 says that Moses was unique in this regard; he was given the gift of being close to God.

Today’s passage recounts a part of Moses’ life that wasn’t so easy. His people were cruelly oppressed in Egypt. Moses himself made mistakes, like jumping right in there for his peoples’ cause by murdering an Egyptian, then fleeing to Midian for forty years.

We don’t know a lot about those forty years. It seems like a long time to us but during those years, Moses started becoming someone who God knows. This time in Moses’ life ended one day when Moses saw a burning bush and heard the Lord’s voice calling Moses to lead His people. We know that the next years didn’t get easier for Moses, but we know that God was close to Moses. We know that God was with the Israelites. We know that God wants us to listen to the stories and learn from them like Stephen wanted his listeners to do.

If we think back on our own family history we can see where God was with us and with our families. At this time of year, sometimes we have time to sit a little more. We make scrapbooks (perhaps), or write in journals, or sit outdoors, and think. May we spend time with God, and enjoy being close to Him, and give Him thanks and have a listening heart to what He wants us to do.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Acts 6:15-7:16

I see two very important and interesting messages in today's readings. The first has to do with how our prayers get answered. The second has to do with contrasting human perspectives relative to God's perspective when our problems are placed into the context of history.

It seems that many times our prayers are answered by God in a way that requires some sort of action on our own part. Once we see that, He provides us with the strength and courage which we require in order to do the work that is needed to fulfill His will. In other words, the solutions to our problems may not be delivered to us directly without first applying our minds, hands, and feet in a way that helps transform the spiritual energy from heaven above into the bodily energy here on earth which meets the needs of a physical world. In today's reading there is a detailed description of wide-spread famine, and the faithful no doubt pray for food to relieve their hunger and to end their suffering. Yet the answer to Jacob's prayers was not food, but instead knowledge that there was grain in Egypt and he had to relocate his seventy-five family members and ancestors to save them. This sustains them for a time, but eventually they died and their bodies are returned to be buried at Shechem in the tombs provided by Abraham. This leads us to the second message.

My father, age 76, recently told me that "nothing is ever as big a deal as it seems in real time" which is sort of a variation on the theme about how time seems to heal our problems, or at the very least seems to change the nature and intensity of them. Anybody can say these sorts of things, but in his case it was somewhat extraordinary since his father (my grandfather) was murdered in 1972 and his wife (my mother) died from brain cancer in 2002. We know death is inevitable, but a strong faith makes us more ready to accept it and much less afraid of it. So we ask for God's help, run the good race, and maybe win our place in history by contributing to His will.

During Spring Break this year, my daughter Emily and I camped inside the Grand Canyon, and as we looked up at the millions of stars that were billions of miles away it occurred to me that much of the light we were seeing actually started traveling before the Grand Canyon was ever formed. It is from this sort of perspective that the seemingly difficult situations of everyday life become quite insignificant when placed into the context of our own mortality and time. The challenge for us then becomes to make sure we pray for the right things.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Acts 14:1-18

Daily Devotional – Tuesday June 26, 2007
Acts 14:1-18
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

We continue Luke’s account of the history of the early church. Today he provides a very clear telling of how conversion of large crowds of people was achieved. As I read this passage it struck me how simple it all seems and yet we know it was not simple. Imagine walking into a church and suggesting that what they believed and worshiped was wrong and they you had the right answer. It would take some pretty convincing arguments. However, this small band of believers had more than just arguments. They had physical proof of the existence of a living and loving God. The sample of the healing of the man crippled from birth is just one of many miracles performed in the name of God.

How did they respond? They tried to rationalize what they saw according to their own beliefs. They claimed the healers to be Gods in their own right. They were claimed as Zeus or Hermes and the people brought sacrifices in the traditional manner. Barnabas and Paul got very upset and challenged them and told them they were wrong in what they did and that they were no different from them. He told them about the one and only God who made heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them. It wasn’t them who healed the man; it was God and his faith in God. He told them that God has always been with them in the form of rains and fruitful seasons and taken care of them. Now God has been among them in human form and will take care of them forever. They believed.

This is all about change and how to make it happen. God wanted the world to change. Jesus was to be the catalyst of that change. His people had to be changed for they would not change on their own. As I read about the current crisis in our church and how we struggle with change I realize we are still in a change process that probably will never end. We need people like Paul and Barnabas with the conviction to witness to the living presence of God on earth and lead the changing of other people.

John Dickie, June 26, 2007

Monday, June 25, 2007

Acts 5:12-26

If we are not already convinced that faith in Jesus constitutes a matter of utter life and death, we surely should perceive this clearly from the sections of Acts we are now reading. Of course we should know this from the crucifixion of Jesus. In case we do not, though, we must understand it from events involving followers of Jesus as described in Acts.

As reported in chapter 4, the religious and political authorities in Jerusalem had already detained and threatened Peter and John once for proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection. Then, as recounted in the first part of chapter 5, a husband and wife associated with the community of Jesus-followers dropped dead after they tried to deceive the apostles about their supposed donations to the community! Additionally, as we read in today’s reading, the renown and authenticity of the good news increased as the believers gathered in public in the temple precincts and many healings took place.

People found the good news appealing and responded to the believers with approval. Many, though, showed reluctance to join the community of Jesus-followers out of fear of the authorities. The authorities justified this fear by imprisoning the apostles again to squelch the Jesus movement. Who among the believers and the crowds would not have understood and pictured vividly what happened to Jesus at the instigation of the authorities? Could it have been any clearer to all that faith in Jesus was a matter of life and death?

We have so many ways we try to compartmentalize, manage, and domesticate Jesus and faith in him. On a personal level, for example, we might convince ourselves that an hour in church on Sunday mornings fulfills the measure and duty of being “religious.” It is as if we could add Jesus to our lives as just one more nice component. Then on a cultural level, for example, we might think we have found the right place for Jesus and faith through an absolute and uncritical insistence on “separation of church and state,” or through relegation of religion to the private and not the public sphere, or through homogenization of different belief systems with talk of “spirituality” and “faith” in generic, non-specific senses.

What we see in Acts strongly indicates we cannot compartmentalize, manage, and domesticate Jesus and faith in him. The truth of Jesus – as we see in Acts, in the early church’s bold and wide proclamation of the good news (witness her martyrs!) – is that true faith in him, both then and now, means reputation, comfort, and even earthly life may be at risk. But then Jesus gave all for us. Can we give him less?

Gregory Strong

Sunday, June 24, 2007

James 1:1-18

I saw today that Perseverance, his friends call him Percy, has been contracted to help build wisdom into Joe Christian’s life. As Joe is my friend, I did a little research on Percy to check his credentials. I wanted to make sure that Percy was a reliable contractor.

I found that Percy has been in business for a very long time. He has a track record of general success but this is interspersed with a smattering of failures. It was interesting to see that some of his jobs were completed in a matter of days, while some appear to be taking a lifetime to finish. Percy tackles a very wide variety of tasks and work sites, but this diversity doesn’t seem to affect the success or failure of the job. I found that the single greatest contributor to the length and ultimate success of Percy’s work was the support of the client.

Like any good contractor, Percy has a well-stocked tool chest. I was able to see Percy working with his hammer and chisel (he’s an excellent craftsman) but I also heard that Percy has connections to outsource work to other contractors.

The final step in my investigation of Percy was to check his references. Of course, the General Contractor gave Percy rave reviews – no big surprise there. It was noteworthy that many of the clients that received help from Percy commented that he only seemed to be called in when the construction job suddenly became much bigger or more difficult than anyone expected. The end result that Percy helped provide, while maybe not exactly what the client expected, always left the client pleased.

I need to tell Joe Christian what I found about Percy and remind him that our friend James also highly recommends Percy: “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)

If you find yourself in a difficult situation, I would recommend that you give Percy a call. He can help.

Alan Davenport

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Acts 4:32 - 5:11

A Blessing-- and a Curse

In considering this passage, it would be easy to go directly to the sobering story of Ananias and Sapphira, at the end of which "great fear seized the whole church." Yes, we too are intended to feel the shock of what happened to the couple. But let us first find the blessing.

The church in Jerusalem shared one heart and one soul. The needs of all were being met through the combined wealth of all. From a purely legal perspective, individuals still had their own property rights, but they did not view them in that way. It must have brought an incredible freedom both to those who had much, and to those who had less. And there were repeated examples of incredible generosity, of which one specific example, Barnabas, whose name shouts encouragement across the millennia, is cited. And the example resonates for us as well.

However, here, as everywhere since the Fall, Satan was busy, and two people accepted the lie that it would be even better to "have your cake and eat it too"--i.e., they could represent themselves as having given all, with corresponding honors, and get a few benefits on the side and on the sly. (Satan's even bigger lie, and one that is a snare for many of us today, was that they couldn't both give freely and fully and meet their own needs.) And they died--I think--of their own mortification, when the lie that they told was exposed.

In our own community of faith, when we are presented continually with examples of how unfettered sharing leads to a multiplication of blessings as we partner with God to do his work--let us not hold back. Guard us from the temptation to seek praise and honor for less than the fullest outflow of our hearts. And may our heart and soul truly be One. Amen.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Acts 2:37-47

It would be very hard to read this passage and not think joyful thoughts. This is one of the passages from the Bible that makes it clear that God means for us to be Christians within a community of Christians. It is through that community that one can fully experience the joy of knowing God.

I can only imagine how giddy with happiness these first Christians must have been. They had probably never experienced anything like this before nor heard of anything like this. Even the stories they had heard of Abraham, Moses, Noah and all the other prophets of old were not particular joyful, at least not in this same way. These early Christians were poor, hungry, living in an occupied land, not knowing if they would be arrested and even killed. Yet, they gave away all they had. They spent their days in the temple and their nights eating communally with the others. And they had “glad and generous hearts”.

It is difficult to get recharged these days. By the end of the work week, most people feel totally spent, especially when faced with all the tasks and chores that need to be done at home over the weekend. Going to church and hanging out with like-minded folks has never been more crucial to our spiritual, emotional and even physical health. This is part of God’s charge to us.

So, maybe it’s time to go to the next softball game, attend the Wednesday movie nights this summer, or stay awhile after church and get to know your brothers and sisters in Christ. I am sure that you would be very glad you did.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Acts 2:22-36

How much freedom does an individual have to change something of which they choose to be a part?

If, for instance, I am a Marine, how much freedom do I have to change Marine Corp’s beliefs and practices? If I said to the Corp “you’re way too violent, you need to plant roses instead of training with guns”, would they listen to me? Probably not. I am completely free to hold that belief with all my heart, but if I insist upon it so that I don’t train with soldiers but go off in my little garden and spend my days planting roses, I cannot with integrity consider myself a Marine.

We might also ask, should the Marine Corp listen to me? Should they stop training with guns and start planting roses instead? Some might think so. But if they did, they would no longer be the Marine Corp. They would cease to serve the purpose for which the Corp was created, having become a horticultural society instead of an elite military unit.

Or take another example. Say I belong to a catch and release (letting the fish go instead of eating it) fly fishing club. Do I have the freedom to be a member of that club even I choose only to fish only with worms and kill everything I catch?

It would not seem so. If I insist on using worms and killing everything I catch, there is no meaningful sense in which I could consider myself a fly fisherman who practices catch and release.

Should the club change to meet my personal beliefs and practices? Again, it would hardly seem so. If it did, it would cease to be what it was created to be, a community in which people rejoice in their shared love of fishing with flies and letting the beautiful fish they catch go to live another day.

A final example. How much freedom does an individual have to change the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I’d suggest the answer is directly analogous to the above examples. We do not change it; we submit to it. If we don’t submit to it, we may be many things, some of which are fine and good, but we are not Christians.

That’s what Peter is saying in today’s Gospel. Jesus is Lord and Messiah, raised from the dead by the supernatural power of God. For those who would faithfully follow him, only one response is possible: “Yeah and amen.” To say that any other answer is possible is to preach a false gospel, one that is not worthy of the name.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Acts 2:1-21

Today's reading in Acts is a familiar one. It is the story of the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples at Pentecost. Even though I have heard this account many times, when it is my turn to write this devotion I learn so much. I see details I never noticed before as I study a particular reading in preparation for this writing. This is one reason I enjoy writing this devotion. Of course, as you might have guessed, today is not exception - so let's have a look.

The first thing I notice is that in verse 2 wind is used as an analogy for the Holy Spirit. To me this seems like a great analogy as one cannot see the wind but one can see its effects. Also, wind can be found everywhere and in never-ending supply.

After the wind analogy, in verse 3, a visual analogy is added. Flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. The Bible often uses fire to represent God. Here is no different. But why fire? When one purifies metal or when one shapes metal one uses fire to liquefy or soften it. When metal is in liquid form the impurities can be separated. When metal is in a softer form, it can be hammered into desired shapes. When the Bible uses fire to represent God, the Bible is saying God purifies us or shapes us for his work. God sets our hearts on fire to do his work.

The final item for today is something I think about often. God revealed himself to these believers in a spectacular way - violent wind and fire. Wouldn't it be great if God would reveal himself to us in the same way? I submit that God does use dramatic methods to work in our lives - and he speaks in gentle whispers. We have to be prepared to recognize, capture, and act upon both.

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

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Acts 1:15-26

Daily Devotional – Tuesday June 19, 2007
Acts 1:15-26
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

May God be with you on this warm summer day that he has given us. We are blessed today with a reading from Acts where Luke writes about events in the very early church between Christ’s resurrection and the beginning of Paul’s ministry. Luke provides a very valuable history of the period and tells of how the Christian Church established itself and grew. He tells of Judas “who was the guide to those who arrested Jesus”.

Luke wanted to illustrate that Christianity was the natural evolution of Judaism. He records how Peter showed how Judas was fulfilling David’s prophecy in the Psalm that one among us would play such role as Judas did in fulfilling his share in the ministry. Luke/Peter does not pass judgment on Judas and suggests that it was all part of God’s plan. He goes on to describe how Judas met his end in a violent way in the field of blood. This was also foretold in the Psalms. These examples of fulfillment and continuance must have contributed greatly to reassuring those confused by what had happened.

Luke then goes on to tell us how the organization of the early church dealt with perpetuating itself. Judas had to be replaced in the family of believers. How did they come to that? Again the answer was found in the Psalm. “His office let another take”. They didn’t make it up. They went to God for instruction in the form of the bible. From 2 candidates from within the faithful who had followed Christ during his ministry, they drew lots and elected one – Matthi’as to take the place of Judas with the other 11 apostles.

I love history and the Acts are some of my favorite parts of the bible. They are written in a straightforward manner that is easy to understand. Can you image how Matthi’as must have felt being chosen to replace Judas. Was he also being chosen for a specific role and a possible bad end? Was he chosen by other men or by God through other men? I can imagine his possible fear but at the same time I can imagine his great pride and joy at being chosen. We all really want to be chosen don’t we? I think that we who love Christ have all been chosen. Thanks be to God!


John Dickie, June 19, 2007

Monday, June 18, 2007

Acts 1:1-14

Today we open the book of Acts, often titled more expansively in Bibles and church tradition “The Acts of the Apostles.” As we travel the Daily Office lectionary in the days ahead, we will read extensively in those acts for more than two months. What are we to make of Acts, especially since we will spend so much time in it?

We get our best indication of what to make of Acts from its opening sentences. Luke, the author of Acts, introduced this work by referring to his “former book,” what we call the Gospel of Luke. An unfortunate aspect of the structure of our New Testament is the fact that the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts stand separated from each other by the Gospel of John. John’s Gospel is sublime, but Luke’s Gospel and his Acts should be read consecutively as two parts of a single narrative. The first part, the Gospel, covers what “Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up into heaven… (Acts 1:1, 2).” The second part, Acts, carries this narrative forward by relating what Jesus did and taught after he was taken up into heaven in and through the apostles and early church, as empowered by the Holy Spirit.

In other words, as we journey through Acts in the next weeks, we have the great privilege of following the actions and teachings of Jesus among the earliest Christians, first in Palestine and then throughout the Mediterranean region, in the generation after his death, resurrection, and ascension. Without Acts, we would not have most of this information at all. In God’s good providence, we have this invaluable record of Jesus’ transformation of people and the world through the power of the Holy Spirit in those early years of the church’s birth and wondrous growth.

As we travel through Acts, though, we should reject antiquarianism in our approach. That is, we should understand we are not merely reading about events 2000 years ago, across a vast distance of time and culture. We are exploring our very beginnings as followers of Jesus! The same Jesus who transformed those earliest believers has done the same for people in every generation since, and he continues to do so in our lives and our children’s lives. We should relish this venture we undertake in Acts! Heeding the exhortation of the prayer book collect for Proper 28, we should “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” Acts and all of Holy Scripture. For through his inspired and inspirited Word, incarnate in Jesus and written in Scripture, God transforms and matures us toward perfect faith, hope, and love, for this world and the next.

Gregory Strong

Saturday, June 16, 2007

2 Corinthians 13:1-14

In this letter to the Corinthians, Paul is addressing his concerns about the actions of some of the community and exhorting them to change their ways. He has warned them twice before and, if he sees the same problems when he arrives on his third visit, this troublesome group is going to be in big trouble.

Paul’s instructions to this community of believers apply to us even today. He says “Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith”. We’ve probably all heard sermons suggesting we do this. The church year gives us seasons such as Lent and Advent where self examination and introspection are focal points. It doesn’t come naturally to take a hard, honest look at our faith, what we believe in and how we demonstrate our beliefs through our actions. Most of us don’t like to admit our weaknesses and shortcomings. But, it’s a healthy exercise. If we don’t acknowledge that there are areas where we are weak, we probably aren’t going to take advantage of opportunities to change and improve.

We need to take action; participating in programs at church, being with other believers, reading the Bible, spending time in prayer or being quiet with God. These activities will help us to become amenable so He can mold us and teach us. And, we don’t need to beat up on ourselves because we aren’t perfect. We are moving along a path to grow in character and move closer to being the person God desires us to be. God uses our weaknesses to do His work and illustrate to us and the world what can be accomplished through Him.

“And that’s about it, friends. Be cheerful. Keep things in good repair. Keep your spirits up. Think in harmony. Be agreeable. Do all that, and the God of love and peace will be with you for sure.” The Message, v11.

Friday, June 15, 2007

II Corinthians 12:11-21

Paul in these chapters is “under attack,” having had himself and his ministry be falsely accused. People didn’t understand Paul and accused him of many things. It must have been discouraging however he keeps on giving to them. He will gladly give everything he has, and even expend himself (v. 15). Everything he does, he says, is for the strengthening of the Corinthians (v. 19).

Even though he has given so much and given of himself, Paul still faces grief at the continued sin in the lives of the Corinthians (v. 21).

I really admire Paul’s strength. This year many of the devotional readings have reflected Paul’s strength, devotion and closeness to Christ. In thinking about Paul, I believe that’s his secret; he is able to carry on in the face of adversity because he loves Jesus so much. Paul suffered a lot physically for the Lord. He was given some sort of “thorn in the flesh,” which causes him some sort of pain that he asked God to be delivered from. People falsely accused him and some who at first listened to the gospel decided to return to their old ways.

Recently I went on a quiet day. I had the unique experience, after praying (i.e telling God my troubles) of taking a walk and just enjoying God’s company. I am suddenly reminded of Paul’s words to the Philippians, that he wanted the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings (Phil. 3:10). In going through what he did for Christ’s church, Paul is being brought close to Christ, and that is Paul’s goal and the reason he can give himself to the church. May we, like Paul, want to know Christ and so ask for strength to do the tasks He gives us.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

2 Corinthians 11:21-33

As this passage makes clear, the Apostle Paul had been through a lot for the sake of Christ. But his greatest burden come in verse 28: It is Paul’s anxiety for all the churches which causes him daily pressure (“daily stress” is probably how we’d put it today.) All the other challenges were temporary and external, but this one was internal and it was constant. If you too love the Church, you know at least some of how that feels.

In this passage, I think Paul just comes to the end of his rope. He’s given his all for the church—his whole life for the church. He’s sacrificed deeply and suffered much. But there were still some who questioned Paul and his ministry and the direction of his leadership.

My guess is that if you love the Church, and have been bold in ministry for her, I think you also probably know at least a little bit of how this feels. It is a painful place to be.

And in these verses, I think Paul just says, “Enough!” Though he finds it embarrassing to do so; though he finds it distasteful, he lays out his credentials one by one.

I think it is always sad when we come to the place where we must address the presumptions of others. It’s an indication, I think, that sometimes we choose to believe the worst of one another instead of the best. It’s an indication that the church still has a long way to go if we are ever going to be the family, body, community, that Jesus intends for us to be.

And so ministry can take its toll on us. The church herself can take her toll on us, as much—more even!—than the world around us. If you love the Church, have been bold in ministry for her, and served faithfully over the span of years, you probably know this all too well. We can be tempted to quit, give up, roll over and play dead.

I hope you won’t do that. I hope we won’t give up on the church or each other or ourselves. Because although the church has her weaknesses to be sure, in Christ she also has a glory beyond compare. There truly is nothing like the local church when the local church is working right, the single best hope for the world.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

2 Corinthians 11:21-33

Most boys growing up play some variation of “Army”: good guys and bad guys waging war against each other with nothing more than a stick and an active imagination, shooting at the other with machine guns and bazookas, tossing hand grenades, taking cover, dodging missiles and dying dramatic deaths (only to “come alive” after the agreed upon time-out).

For those who have gotten bigger but perhaps not completely grown up, laser tag and paintball provide a high-tech way of simulating real circumstances without the inherent risk of live ammunition. The stories told afterwards however are every bit full of bravado as if life and limb were truly at risk. And yet, true warriors, those who have seen the atrocities of actual combat, seldom feel the need to recount the horrors they have seen or boast of their actions under fire. If and when they do, it makes the boasting of the paintball warrior look absolutely foolish.

In today’s passage, the true warrior Paul is making the false teachers in Corinth look as foolish as the paintball warrior. Any claims they make pale in comparison to those that Paul could make. By beating them at their own game, he establishes his credibility and authority. On top of that, he goes one step further to show how deeply he cares about the gospel by listing the sufferings he has undergone to proclaim it.

But playing games like this is an easy trap to fall into. We often list our actions and accomplishments to boost our reputation and boast of our actions on the laser tag battlefield forgetting it is only a simulation of the real thing. Sometimes we can look silly claiming to be spiritual because we go to church every Sunday or serve on a committee or donate a certain percentage of money. Not that these things are bad but they can easily lead us to think we’re living the real thing when all we may really be doing is shooting paintballs.

There is a real war going on however; a spiritual one that needs true warriors. Let’s not allow the simulation of a battlefield preclude us from action on the real one.

Monday, June 11, 2007

2 Corinthians 10:1-18

Clearly Paul and the Christian community in Corinth had a problem. Though Paul had been instrumental in bringing the good news of Jesus to the Corinthians, and though Paul and the Corinthian Christians had enjoyed a deep and strong spiritual bond in Jesus in the early 50s A.D., by now, the mid 50s, the relationship between the two parties festered with conflict. Paul agonized over grievous spiritual errors and sins in the Corinthian church, as well as over relational injuries between that community and him. The Corinthians in turn, roiled by certain people in or close to the community, criticized Paul and denigrated his ministry.

How did Paul respond? We see Paul’s response in numerous ways in his letters to the Corinthians, but particularly in today’s passage from 2 Corinthians 10. Paul took the problems in the Corinthian church – theological, liturgical, spiritual, moral, and relational – very seriously. He did not ignore, minimize, or gloss over them. He confronted and named them for what they were. They constituted dangerous misunderstandings of Jesus and failures to live faithfully to Jesus within their Christian community and in the larger setting of the city of Corinth.

Yet, in taking those problems seriously, he responded to them in love: love for Jesus first; and then, derived from that love, love for the Corinthian Christians. He did not indulge in spite, mean-spiritedness, or hate. He responded strongly, to be sure, but lovingly. Love for Jesus impelled him to respond thus: upholding truth about Jesus and the good news by identifying, condemning, and correcting errors and sins; and reaching out in reconciling love for the Corinthians by seeking their reformation and their restoration to Jesus and to him.

In all of this we see how clearly and passionately Paul sought to hold Jesus in focus as the focus. Paul did not advance or promote himself. He endeavored to honor Jesus and live out Jesus in his own life. He pursued the same for the Christians in Corinth – that they would honor and live out Jesus at least as much as he did.

May we do likewise! May we commit ourselves to hold Jesus in focus as the focus of our lives – that we may in all things honor and live out Jesus; that who we are and what we do may boast of Jesus, not ourselves or anything else in this world, and thus receive his joyous commendation when we come to the end of our days.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Revelation 12:1-12

When I saw that today’s reading was in Revelations, my first thought was how in the world did I get here? All of a sudden, I found myself reading at the very end of the Bible and not only at the end of the Bible but reading a passage about the last days. The last few Sunday readings have been in Paul’s teaching passages to churches or co-workers; how did I get to John’s Revelation? I have to confess that the feeling of “how in the world did I get here” is coming to me pretty often these days.

My family and I just finished our spring sports season. The championship games are this week. It seems like we just started practicing a couple of weeks ago. How could the season end so quickly? How in the world did I get here?

I have one child graduating High School and another one about to enter High School. I vividly remember changing their diapers and it seems just like yesterday. How could the time pass so quickly? How in the world did I get here?

People in my workplace are retiring or preparing for retirement. I remember hiring them or bringing them onto my team. Has it already been 20 years? How in the world did I get here?

As I was struggling with the thoughts of advancing time, one particular verse from today’s reading spoke to me:

They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
(Revelation 12:11)

I’m at a point in my life where I am seeing friends and family members in their last days. I have seen some approach their death with courage and contentment from a life of faith that has been well-lived. I have seen others shrink from death in fear and dread. I don’t want to be one that comes to the end of my days asking, “How in the world did I get here?”

Alan Davenport

Saturday, June 09, 2007

2 Corinthians 9:1-15

The Money for God’s People

“A few seeds make
a small harvest,
but a lot of seeds make
a big harvest.”

At times we may compartmentalize our thinking about stewardship, leaving it to its “niche” season – not this hot day in June when we are transitioning to summer breaks and graduations. The commitments we make to giving for the sake of God’s people and purposes are made, but mentally we may move on to our next task. We may not realize and visualize how our giving is making an impact when it is received.

In this passage Paul cites the living network of givers who, by their collective offerings of love, are multiplying their effectiveness and sharing in the blessing that God is bestowing on many. How many chances we will have this summer to multiply blessings! With mission trips looming, with many needs known and unknown, there is rich possibility indeed. May we work together in all grace to pour many, many seeds into the plantings, wherever they may be. All we know and need to know is that God will take what we do and make it perfect. Amen.

Matt Brown

Thursday, June 07, 2007

2 Corinthians 8:16-24

Titus is certainly the "go-to" guy. This entire verse is based upon the proverbial expression that "We are sending the A-Team".

It must of been hard for those early evangelicals. Talk about a wing and a prayer. They were hoping to win an entire nation based upon the teachings of one man, Jesus, who, at that time, many believed was a trouble maker. This verse is an explanation by Paul of whom he is sending to Corinth and their credentials. This was obviously a very important decision by Paul of whom to send and why.

Credentials. I may not relate to Paul's or Titus' mission, but I can relate to getting folks to listen and believe in what I say. I have no personal credentials. I am no different than anyone else in that regard. However, I know how God has moved my life, and that is all that I can explain. And that was all that Titus and the others had as well. Paul was certainly one of the best in describing his one momentous visit with Jesus on the road to Damascus.

I submit to you that anyone can be a Titus. Faith provides the credentials anyone needs to be a living testament to God. You do not need to be well read or a good public speaker. You do need to be strong in your faith and your convictions. You need to believe that God provides the opportunities for you to evangelize and He will also provide the means. In this way, we can all live St. Matthew's vision - to know and share God's love.

Vicki Nelson

2 Corinthians 8:1-16

Many people live beyond their means. But today’s Gospel talks of a group of people who gave beyond their means!

What might that look like, giving beyond one’s means? For this group of people, the Macedonians, it meant they gave even when, because of their poverty, they really couldn’t afford to give anything at all. It meant that though they were poor—completely destitute captures the sense of their “extreme poverty”—they were willing to part with what little they had to help someone who had even less. It meant they were willing to go without.

What would giving beyond our means look like for us? It’s worth thinking about. Certainly it means giving at cost to oneself. Might it also mean giving to the point that our own lifestyle suffers? That our own “buying power” is diminished? That our portfolio goes down instead of up? That our financial net worth is decreased? That we go without?

Those are probably questions we all have to answer for ourselves. But I hope we’ll at least ask them.

This passage also helps us understand why they did this. We are told that the Macedonians gave themselves first to the Lord. Their trust was in God, not in the wealth of this world. Their delight was in being faithful to Him, not in status or prestige. Their treasure was in their heart, not in their portfolio or any material thing. It really wasn’t about money at all; it was about loving God above all else, and loving one’s neighbor as they loved themselves.

What would it be like if we loved God, and our neighbors, like that? How different would our churches be? How different would the world be? How different would we be?

I love how Paul puts it in verse 7: Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you*—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. The Corinthians were a people who were all about excellence. Does that remind you of another culture at another place in time? Paul says, “That’s great. I applaud your deep commitment to excellence in all things. Now how about giving? How about being excellent in your giving as well?”

Hmmm. Those sound like questions we should probably ask as well so that we too might be fully faithful followers of Jesus Christ, people who excel in generosity and willingness to give beyond our means.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

2 Corinthians 7:2-16

Today's reading comes from Paul's second letter to the church in Corinth. In the first chapters of this letter, Paul has been dealing with negative problems in that church. However, in today's reading Paul begins to express confidence and joy in the Corinthians and encourages them to seek God's help in order to continue their faithful service.

The verse from today's reading that speaks loudly to me is verse 10, "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

Paul contrasts two types of sorrow. The first is "Godly sorrow" and the second is "worldly sorrow". I feel in this context Paul is using sorrow to mean regret and emotional pain. Repentance means a change in one's ways, a change in behavior, and change in mindset. Paul is telling us that when a person realizes that he or she has done wrong, that person should not only regret the error but also turn back to God. For it is with God's help that people can change their ways and free themselves from sin.

Let's take an example. Let's look at Peter and Judas during the events surrounding Jesus' death. Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss and thus hands him over to suffering and death. Peter denies knowing Jesus three times out of fear for his own safety. Both are overcome with grief due to their actions. Peter had the humility and courage to admit his failure and to seek God's help to change. And we know that God did help him change and used him to build his church. Judas, on the other hand, was too proud, too stubborn, to admit his fault and ask for God's help. Judas let his remorse eat at his soul. And as we know, overcome with guilt, Judas committed suicide.

The sorrow Peter felt caused him to seek God's help and he was transformed into a church leader. Judas did not seek God's help with his sorrow and it eventually lead to his death. One had "Godly sorrow" and the other had "worldly sorrow". When we realize we have done wrong and have regret, do we turn to God for help? Paul clearly indicates that we should!!!

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

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

2 Corinthians 6:3-7:1

Daily Devotional – Tuesday June 5, 2007
2 Corinthians 6:3-7:1
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

Paul in this 2nd letter to the Christian Church of Corinth is very much the loving teacher. When writing he knows that he is being criticized for many reasons. He opens with bold statements defending his righteousness. He would not do or say anything that would allow fault to be found with his ministry. However Paul knew as we know that critics are all around and will not wait for us to provide the reasons for criticism.

This passage speaks to me of purity and cleanliness of spirit. He challenges directly the many areas where the critics are wrong in their criticism. In fact he claims his true condition is opposite to that described by his critics.

I have spent many years in my professional life doing employee performance appraisals. These are an important part of professional life but can also be very painful and difficult activities. It is the time when a person’s own perception of themselves is compared to the perception of another; usually their boss or Supervisor. A person’s sense of self worth is the basis of their own perception of their performance. If the boss's perception is something less this can be turned around to meaning the person is “worth less” than the employees own perception. This can be very painful and demoralizing. It demands great sensitivity and honesty to avoid real damage in the working relationship and defeats the purpose of the assessment.

Paul also speaks of restrictions placed on his readers. It is easy to assume that his critics were also saying that he was putting unnecessary restriction on them. He says that their restrictions come from within themselves and not from him. Again, in my professional life and when I worked with children in theater, I found that people limited them selves often because they thought they were not capable of something; and they were capable of it.

We are God’s children and he is in us. He has done all and is capable of all, therefore we are also capable of all if we trust in the lord and fully use the capabilities and talents that he has given us.

God bless us this day and every day and may God’s to-do list guide us today!


John Dickie, June 5, 2007

Monday, June 04, 2007

2 Corinthians 5:11 - 6:2

What do we live for? What gets us up in the morning – guiding and powering our thoughts, desires, decisions, and actions? What is worth living for?

Much in our culture shapes us – directly or indirectly, openly or subtly – to live for ourselves. Advertising, popular psychology and philosophy, self-help programs, financial gurus, and the like encourage us to think of and care for ourselves first. Through these and other influences, we may come to view the world around us – including people and things – as existing largely for our very own benefit first and last.

What do we live for? What gets us up in the morning – guiding and powering our thoughts, desires, decisions, and actions? What is worth living for?

Compare what Paul declared in today’s passage from 2 Corinthians: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” Loving us, Jesus died for us. Then God raised him to new life, so Jesus continues to love and give himself to us. In gratitude and joy, we should live not for ourselves but for him. His love for us and others should get us up in the morning – guiding and powering our thoughts, desires, decisions, and actions. Jesus is worth living for!

How is it possible to live for Jesus? How can Jesus’ love shape, animate, and sustain who we are and how we live?

Again, compare what Paul proclaimed in today’s passage: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” In Jesus’ death and resurrection, we die and rise to new life. He transforms us. In the core of our being and all the ways we live out of our core being, we become new people in Jesus. Re-created in Jesus and compelled by his love, we can forsake the old and live in the new. We can resist being molded by the culture around us. We can begin to see the world differently, to think differently, to desire differently, and to act differently.

Thus, as Paul passionately urged, in newness of life we can and must carry on Jesus’ ministry of reconciling people to God. This is definitely worth living for! This day and every day!

Gregory Strong

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Eph. 4:1-16

We just finished watching a High School production of Peter Pan – The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up. What a wonderful story of childhood and imagination. At the heart of this story is the question: What does it mean to “grow up” and how do we know when we’ve made it?

Peter Pan would tell us that we shouldn’t grow up – we should stay children and have fun. He would tell us that when we loose our imagination - our ability to believe in Never Land – we’ve grown up. Is that it? Or is it when we pass through one of the societal gates like graduation, or leaving home, getting married, or starting a family? Are we grown up when we begin making certain types of decisions or behaving in certain ways? Do we ever really grow up?

Today’s reading takes the question of growing up and turns it toward our spiritual life. The Bible is very clear that we should be in a spiritual maturing process and I think this short passage shows us several ways to gauge our maturation in the walk of faith.

  • We each have to come to a point of acknowledging Christ as the Son of God, to a point of accepting and confessing one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.
  • We each have a responsibility, a job, in the building up of the church – the Body of Christ.
  • Our convictions and beliefs shouldn’t be changed with each new teacher or book that we read. They should be founded on the unchanging truth of God.
  • The Spirit working in us should be transforming us more and more into the image of Christ.

In the story of Peter Pan, many of the characters had to face the questions of growing up and decide how they would answer them. How would you answer the questions from today’s reading?

  • Have you acknowledged Christ as your Lord?
  • Do you know what your gifts and talents are in building up the Body of Christ? and are you exercising them?
  • Are your convictions and beliefs founded on the Word of God?
  • Is the Spirit working in you? Are you being transformed more and more into the image of Christ?
Let's not be a spiritual Peter Pan.

Alan Davenport

Saturday, June 02, 2007

2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:10

“Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.” (v16 from The Message)

Have you ever observed someone going through difficult times, an extremely stressful and chaotic period in their life but they don’t seem stressed out or unnerved? I have. And I often wonder how they are able to continue working, loving, enjoying themselves and praising God. I’m pretty sure these people do experience the difficulty of their situation and are, at times, weighed down by the pressures and problems. But they don’t give up; they continue to have faith and hope. Even in the midst of chaos, pain and confusion, they seem to be calm and at peace. And to the world, their calm and peace may seem incompatible with their circumstances.

I think what we observe is someone who has been changed by God – someone experiencing the “new life” they have received through God’s grace. God has promised to always be with us and He has promised He will provide incredibly great things for us. The source of their strength, calm, hope and even contentment is their faith and trust in God and His promises.

I believe these moments of calm and peace in the midst of turmoil are pleasing to God because He knows they are reflections of faith and trust in what we don’t yet see. And, He knows how difficult it can be for us to have that faith and trust.

Friday, June 01, 2007

2 Corinthians 4:1-12

In this passage Paul again speaks of what a treasure we have in Christ. The gospel brings light, Paul says. The same power of God which created light out of darkness in the first place, shined His light in our hearts. That’s a lot of light. When I think of the darkest places on earth, I think of those fascinating videos of the ocean floor, where the water is very deep and light doesn’t enter. I think of deep space. What would it be like for a huge searchlight to be turned on in those places?

Paul says the power of God, besides lighting the world, brings light to our hearts. To me this is very comforting. Even though Paul wrote many generations ago, we all still know what it feels like to have a dark heart, and how different it feels to have the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (v. 6).

Peter also uses the analogy of light and dark in II Peter 1:19. He says we should pay attention to the words of the prophets, like a “light shining in a dark place.” Certainly our eyes are drawn to a bright light in a dark place, as the light pierces the darkness. Beautifully, Peter talks about paying attention like this “until the day dawns and the morning star arises in our hearts.”

Paul goes on to say that this treasure, this light in his heart, carries him when his life for Christ is discouraging. Who has not felt hard pressed, crushed, perplexed, (v. 8) especially when Satan tries to discourage? May we today feel the light of Christ in our hearts, and be thankful.