Saturday, September 29, 2007

1 Corinthians 7:10-24

Where I am. As I am.
That's how and what the call is.

Not that The Call doesn't invite or urge me to change. Not that The Call doesn't ask everything of me. Not that sacrifice isn't central to answering The Call.

If I'm working when The Call comes, I'm not automatically expected to quit my job. If my wardrobe runs to t-shirts and jeans, I'm not obliged to trade them in for polos and khakis (or vice versa). I can remain vegetarian or vegan or a steak-and-potatoes guy. I can keep my ear/nose/tongue/navel/whatever ring, my tatoos, my dreadlocks. I can vote for whoever I was going to vote for in November of this year or next. The Call is about none of those things.

If I'm committed, legally, to another person, that commitment is still binding on me. I have been set Free in a sense that no earthly king or court can change. But I'm still obliged to my significant other. If he or she leaves me because I have answered The Call, so be it. But I should not seek that separation.

Let the change come from within me. Let my heart be changed so that those who truly know me will know that I have changed, my priorities are different, but I am not ashamed of the identity that I had and still have. God put me in this place to be an ambassador for him. I'm on a mission now, deployed as part of a global network. I need to be about that mission, a mission that is not about outward branding.

It's all about the things that are eternal.

Today, let me think on those things, and I will truly be answering The Call.

Friday, September 28, 2007

1 Corinthians 7:1-7


One thing that strikes me about this passage is that it’s about sharing. (Although, the first thing that I thought was, “Why me?,” since it discusses intimate relations in marriage).

I thought of kindness, and how we are called to show kindness to the people we are married to, or others in our household. We are even called to share our bodies. It’s obvious that Paul is talking about intimate relations in marriage, but we share our bodies in other ways too. We are called to share ourself, even when we are tired, to go the extra mile, to do our chores cheerfully, to take the time and energy to help our families, to take a breath and respond cheerfully or at least calmly when we don’t feel like it, in our own homes.

On my fridge I have posted a quote from an old devotional by F.W.Robertson which begins, “Let the weakest, let the humblest remember, that in his daily course he can, if he will, shed around him almost a heaven.” As I have journeyed with Christ He has made me aware of how I can be kinder to those I live with. It is humbling to see how far I have to go, after having been a Christian for so long, but it’s exciting that I still can learn.

As it happens, this week is my spouse’s birthday. So, I’d like to thank him for the kindnesses he has shown to me; for going with me to the dentist when I was afraid to have teeth pulled, for holding my hand while snorkeling, for teaching our kids to draw, for making dinner.

May we all be sharers in our homes, and shed a heaven around us.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

1 Corinthians 6: 12-20

Today’s passage uses sayings from Paul’s day (much like the saying, “If it feels good, do it” from our day) as a spring board to talk about sex. Many people, then and now, simply see sex as an appetite. I’ve heard people say that if they get hungry, they have a hamburger; if they get horny, they have sex. What’s the difference? What’s the big deal? That’s a pretty common attitude today, even as it was in Paul’s day as well.

It’s a big deal because sex is intended by God to be more than just physical coupling, an animal act serving biological drives or physiological necessity. As verse 16 notes, in sex “two shall become one flesh.” In other words, while eating only involves the stomach (vs 13), sex involves one’s whole being. To take sex so casually that it is a mere matter of ends justifying the means is to violate the Christian view of what it means to be a person.

Second, it’s a big deal because of the kind of relationships to which Christians are called. As Christians, we have established a union with Christ which is deep and profound and touches every area of our life. To establish a union with another that is meant to be shallow and superficial in the interest of pursuing only physical pleasure is not consistent with our union with Christ. There is a lack of alignment which promotes death (death of the heart, spirit, soul) rather than life (which in its fullest sense is far more than mere material existence.)

As Christians, then, we are committed to sex only with the context a marriage, a life long union where two people become one not just in body but in heart and mind and soul, and where they don’t just treat one another as a means to an end, but love each other deeply and profoundly for the precious people they are.

It’s a high calling, to be sure. But God is surely worthy of the diligence and effort such faithfulness requires—and so is our spouse.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

1 Corinthians 5:9-6:8

Today’s reading has two parts. The second part (the verses in chapter 6) has to do with lawsuits and Paul’s guidance that believers should not sue each other. As important as this part of today’s reading is, and perhaps as relevant to today in the USA, I would like to concentrate on the first part of the reading. The first part of the reading has to do with whom Christians should associate.

In the verses of chapter 5 in today’s reading, I feel Paul makes it clear that we should not disassociate ourselves from unbelievers. As in so doing we could not carry out Christ’s command to tell them about salvation (remember Matthew 28:19-20, “19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”) In addition, Paul tells us we should not judge and condemn those outside the faith as God will take care of that. But Paul says we are to distance ourselves from the person who claims to be a Christian yet indulges in sins. “But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.” (1 Corinthians 5:11)

When I first read it, verse 11 was very troubling to me. I mean Paul telling us not to associate with anyone seems strange to me at first glance. But when I look at it on a deeper level, I think how could someone call themselves a Christian and indulge in these types of sins? The only explanation I can think of is that this person has rationalized their actions. By rationalizing their sin, these persons who call themselves Christians harm others for whom Christ died. In today’s reading Paul calls on other believers to call out the believers who live like non-believers. This certainly is not easy or popular but it is important. If it is done properly God can use it to convict and restore an erring believer.

I am humbled by today's reading.

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

Monday, September 24, 2007

1 Corinthians 4:8-21

How easy it is for us to feel we have arrived! I do not refer to physical travel. I refer to our sense of self and place in life. Whether we think it explicitly or simply act as if it were true, we often feel we have arrived in life. We believe and act as if we have no more to learn; we need not or cannot change anymore; we are what we have become, and it is good enough! In short, we have reached the pinnacle of our knowledge, abilities, personality, and character. From now on we will just dwell on the plateau of who and what we are!

Many in the church in Corinth must have felt like this. Paul – when he lived and taught there around 52-53 A.D. – had first given them the good news of Jesus. They welcomed Paul and his ministry on their behalf. However, after Paul left, various factions among the Corinthian Christians came to favor other teachers and leaders. Many began to disparage Paul. In their enthusiasms for this or that teacher or leader, they felt they had grown beyond Paul and what he taught. They had arrived – they thought – at a place of spiritual maturity, with attendant honor and blessing. They no longer needed to pay regard to Paul and his concerns about their faith and life.

Paul, disturbed and pained by their attitudes and behaviors, saw arrogance and complacence rife among them. He reminded them of their spiritual debt to him. He had been their “father in the faith.” They were, in a sense, his children in Jesus. Because of this relationship, in love and humility they ought to hear and heed his instruction, correction, and encouragement.

Yet more, they should hear and heed because the true nature of a follower of Jesus excludes all arrogance and complacence about faith and life. Compare Paul’s description of his life. To the world he appeared foolish, weak, and dishonorable. He endured hunger, poverty, maltreatment, homelessness, hard work, curses, slander, and persecution. And compare this vivid image Paul invoked: “God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle….” The image came from the practice of Roman generals leading their vanquished enemies in triumphant procession through Rome, to enslavement or death. What room is there for arrogance or complacence in this picture?

What about you and me? Do we, explicitly or implicitly, feel and act as if we have arrived spiritually? Does arrogance or complacence characterize our faith and life? Do we think or act as if we have no more to learn, no more to change, no more to become? May we ponder these questions, may we ponder our faith and life, with prayerful humility and passionate desire to grow into the fullness of Christ, in this life and the next!

Gregory Strong

Friday, September 21, 2007

1 Corinthians 3:16-23

As the previous devotional writers have stated over this last week, one of the main purposes of this letter from Paul to the Corinthian church was to point out the weaknesses and divisions that had erupted in that new church. In today’s reading, I was struck by two things and how I can relate to these points as a parent.

First is the statement “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” I think that many of us who are parents need reassurance that we are doing a good job. But, there is no standard, no job description. So, instead we compare notes with other parents and sometimes we silently (or perhaps sometimes not so silently) pat ourselves on the back for doing what we believe is a better job than the parent with whom the comparison is made. This is particularly true with a new mother talking with mothers of older children. It strikes me how, under the excuse of sharing wisdom, mothers can sound so pompous to new mothers.

Second, is the behavior of Paul himself in the words throughout 1 Corinthians. Even though he was likely frustrated and even angry with the new Christians in Corinth, he remains calm and restrained yet firm. As a parent, there have been so many times I have regretted not acting this way to my children and thinking that I cannot take back my anger and frustration. Those moments are lost forever.

Frankly, I’m not sure that any parent has the right to think of themselves as truly wise. Certainly, based upon these instructions from Paul, whether a parent or not, we should not get wrapped up in the wisdom of this world as it is “foolishness in God’s sight.” Parents in particular need to model to their children the type of person Paul is asking the Corinthians to be – humble servants of God.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, September 20, 2007

1 Corinthians 2:14-3:15

Is it possible that divisions in church result largely from spiritual immaturity? That even as we think of the divisions in our churches that will inevitably come immediately to mind, that the real reason for these divisions is not so much our beliefs as the spiritual immaturity of the people who hold them?

I don’t think so, but I hope that opening paragraph got your attention like this passage of Scripture got mine. Because it does seem to me that although spiritual immaturity may not adequately or entirely explain our divisions, this passage teaches it does factor in there somewhere.

Let’s face it. If we were talking about a divorce, rarely if ever would we say the split was entirely the fault of one party or the other. We realize both parties have played a part in the demise of the marriage—not always equally, to be sure, but each has played a role in it none-the-less.

Perhaps it is worth considering if this is analogous to divisions in the church, and whether this might be at least some of what Paul is getting at in this passage. It might also recall the words of Jesus that his followers should take care of the massive plank in their own eye before they try and attend to the speck in somebody else’s.

I am not comfortable with the implications of these words for my own life, and I’m not sure that anyone else who reads will be comfortable with them either. They cut very close to the bone.

Please please please know that I in no way mean this to be a not- so- subtle attack on any one or any certain position. Perhaps this word is strictly for me, speaking only to my own immaturities and the divisive quarrels they continue to cause. Or maybe I am just plain wrong in my understanding of what Paul is saying here; it won’t be the first time I’ve been wrong, or the last.

But maybe, just maybe, in the divisions in which we are all embroiled, we should first look to ourselves, to our own immaturity, rather than needing to take the fight somewhere else.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

1 Corinthians 2:1-13

First let me start with some background. The Corinthians were confusing the gospel by creating artificial standards of faith. They were using wisdom as the gauge. The more wisdom someone claimed, the more spiritual that person became. They were arguing and dividing over which person had the deepest spirituality. Paul, on the other hand, did not come to them and try to compete on a human wisdom basis. Instead he came with the “simple” gospel message. In these verses Paul was not debating speculative notions for these never saved anyone. The wisdom of this world offers nothing for salvation. Salvation comes from the wisdom of God. “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” (verse 12). Paul says that the gospel message had not been given with words of human wisdom because no human wisdom can adequately explain God’s wisdom. To this I say a big Amen.

Can you imagine what heaven would be like if it were designed by human begins? I submit it would be a lot like earth. I do not know about you but I do not think the earth humans have created is paradise. I mean it is not horrible, at least not where we live, but it certainly is not a place with a peace beyond our understanding. In verse 9 Paul states, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” In other words, the future blessings we will enjoy in heaven are beyond the ability of our pea size brains to understand. To this I say alleluia!!!

But how do we know this? We know this not because a human being has told us but because God has revealed it to us. Not because of human wisdom but because of God’s wisdom.

Since God is so wise, and much wiser then ourselves, wouldn’t it be smart to follow His will and not our own, or that of another human? For believers the simple and obvious answer is yes.

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

Monday, September 17, 2007

1 Corinthians 1:1-19

Today we begin reading in 1 Corinthians. This epistle constitutes one of two surviving letters from Paul to the Christian community in Corinth. Paul’s letters to Corinth convey considerable information about the life of a first century Christian community, and they contain some of his richest reflections on Christian faith and life.

Corinth was a major city and commercial center in Achaia (roughly the southern half of modern Greece). It had a large and diverse population ethnically, religiously, and morally. The Christian community in Corinth arose in response to Paul’s proclamation of the gospel there around 52 A.D., on his second missionary journey. Paul spent about a year and a half living, preaching, and teaching in Corinth. A few years later, around 55 A.D., in Ephesus on his third missionary journey, Paul heard reports about the Corinthian church that led him to write this letter.

Paul opened the letter in standard style for the time. First, he introduced himself. Second, he identified the recipients of the letter. Third, he greeted them with wishes for their well being. Then Paul expressed his affection for his Corinthian brothers and sisters in Christ, and he commended them for their experience of grace, their knowledge of spiritual truth, and their spiritual gifts. However, as the letter will show, along with their strengths, serious problems afflicted their faith and life.

Factionalism was one such ill bedeviling the church. Members were separating into contentious groups favoring this church leader or teacher against that one. In the face of this, Paul underscored that Christ is undivided. Hence, the Body of Christ is in essence undivided, and this organic unity in Christ should be lived out among the members of the Body. But contention and division had slithered in and poisoned the church in Corinth.

The Church today continues to suffer such ills. We fall short of and contradict the unity of Christ. Our witness to the world correspondingly degrades. If Christ is one, and if Christ desires and creates unity, how can we move from contention and division to unity? Much could be said, for these matters involve considerable theological, spiritual, historical, and relational complexity. Yet two things we can say with certainty. (1) Unity roots in and stems from Christ. Hence, we are one in Christ, or we are not truly one. (2) Unity roots in and stems from the cross of Christ. Hence, we are one in Christ because of his cross, or we are not truly one. We have no hope in any person, value, or process other than Christ himself, his unity, and his cross. How then we can submit ourselves to Christ and to his cross, to live in the great goodness of his unity?

Gregory Strong

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Phil. 3:17 - 4:7

I'm not now, nor have I ever been, a joyful person. I have known moments of pure joy that broke on me so suddenly and serendipitously that they stand out in my memory like ship's masts above a fog bank. But I also know that I have found joy more often when I have put myself on God's path, not my own, and especially when I have joined with faithful hearts who were also seeking that path.

I suspect that Paul wasn't by nature a joyful man either. By this point in his career he had suffered greatly, and he awaited the dread culmination of his suffering. But he refused to yield to the darkness that loomed around him. He found great encouragement in the lives and perseverance of his friends, his companions in the journey, and even if he never sees them again, he wants them to carry on in his absence. So he leaves them (and us) with all these gemstones of encouragement:

our citizenship is in heaven

my brothers and joy and crown

He will transform our... humiliation...into glory

stand firm in the beloved

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!

The Lord is near

At times, too, I have been an anxious person, to a degree that I could not shake loose for long fretful stretches of time. Paul's enjoinder to not worry about anything (but pray) is the best advice anyone could give or get. I need to take that Rx, daily.

And then that wonderful benediction. May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Phillipians 3: 1-16

Paul in this passage talks about his identity, or status in life. We all derive comfort or satisfaction from our place, or standing, or identity. We have many roles and we try to do our best in them..

Paul talks about his past privileged standing as a Pharisee. He had been respected. But he says, now the only role I desire is that of servant of Christ. The things that used to matter, don’t matter at all when it comes to the wonder of knowing Christ.

I’ve lost my standing in society, for Christ, Paul says. Not only that but I’ve lost all things for Christ. We think of what Paul suffered for Christ He sacrificed material things and physical comforts when he travelled to tell others about the Lord. He was misunderstood, imprisoned, beaten.

I have pondered Paul’s writings lately. His passion and single mindedness amaze me. Nothing matters for him except knowing Christ. He uses his energies to serve Christ and urges us to live a life of service which flows out of thankfulness for what Christ has done for us. How does this happen? How are some people blessed with this kind of devotion? Paul’s energy comes from love. He loves the Lord and so he serves the Lord. He knows how much he has to be thankful for.

Paul says he has forgotten what is behind and strains for what is ahead. It’s an athletic image; Paul has no feet mired in this world’s interests. He has jumped in and is racing to Jesus with all he’s got.

This passage has imagery of extremes. Paul throws away into the garbage his former identity. Paul has lost everything. He races toward the goal of knowing Christ. He presses on. May we find the grace to be extreme. Please, God.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Phillipians 2: 12-30

It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Philippians 2:16

What will we boast in on the day of Christ? What will be the evidence that we did not run or labor in vain?

In other words, what in our lives are we most proud of right now? What is receiving the bulk of our time and energy? Where in our lives are we working hardest?

For Paul, the answer to these questions was clear. It was people. It was people who he had nurtured in their life of faith so that they held fast to the word of life. That is, it was people who really did live the Gospel; who put into practice what Paul had taught them about life in Christ.

So this much is clear. One day we will stand face to face with Jesus Christ. It is worth remembering that, and never letting that get too far from our minds. On that day, we’ll want to be able to look back on our lives in such a way that we are not ashamed of them; that we do not regret the choices we made; that we did not waste our lives and the opportunities before us. In short, we will want Jesus to be pleased with what we have done with our lives.

If we are learn from Paul’s example, the way to do that is not in worldly accomplishment or in a stock pile of nice things. It is from making people our primary investment. More specifically, it is teaching them about Jesus that, whatever our actual jobs may be, will become our life’s labor.

How are we doing that? How are we pouring our lives out like a drink offering to introduce others to Jesus, teach them what it means to follow him, and nurture them in our faith?

In the ways that we are do so, let us be encouraged. The sacrifices we are making are worth it; we are not running or laboring in vain. I know for many people in my parish, at least, the days get long and the body gets weary and we sometimes wonder if it is worth the effort. It is, dear brothers and sisters, it is.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Philippians 2:1-11

Whew. What a reading we have today. I do not know about you, but this one makes me think hard about what it means to be a Christian.

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." (verses 3-5)

In America there is a lot of talk of individual rights. Now do not get me wrong, I think the Bill of Rights is a wonderful document and I am very supportive of it. But sometimes I think people play "their rights" card too frequently and perhaps for the wrong reason. The verses above remind us that Jesus humbled himself. He gave up his rights in order to obey God and serve people. Like Christ, Christians are called to have a servant's attitude - serving out of love for God and others. Often people, not you but other people I know, excuse selfishness, pride, or evil by claiming their rights. They think, "I can cheat on this test because I deserve to pass," or "I can spend all this money on myself - I worked hard for it." We are called to have a different attitude, one that enables us to lay aside our rights in order to serve others. If we say we follow Christ, we must accept His teachings into our lives and attempt to live as He lived.

Let me close by calling your attention to the last part of the verses given above. The part about our attitude. As we follow Christ and grow our servant attitude, we are called to do this service out of love and not out of guilt or fear. To me the act of being a servant is much easier than doing that act with love in my heart. Remember, each of us can choose our attitude. We can approach life expecting to be served or you can look for opportunities to serve. Today's reading is a great reminder for us all.

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

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Philippians 1:12-30

I was struck by verse 20 in today's reading, "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death."

The thought of "sufficient courage" intrigued me. Here was Paul, arrested and in prison for preaching the gospel of Christ, yet he was hoping to have sufficient courage to continue exalting Christ.

Over the labor day weekend, my family and I went to the Delaware beach. My 10 year old son is an excellent swimmer and like most 10 year old boys has the fearlessness of youth. As soon as we got to the beach he went running to the waters edge and ran out to about knee depth.

"Dad come in with me"
"No, go on in - I'll come in later"
"Come on Dad. Come in with me now"

As soon as I joined him, we were out in the deep water - body surfing in the waves and having a great time. By just coming along side, I was providing him encouragement and support - giving him the confidence and assurance to do the things he already knew how to do.

This is the message that I heard from Paul in today's reading. The prayers and support of the believers in Philippi were a source of strength and encouragement to Paul. They with the Holy Spirit were keeping him strong in his faith and commitment in the midst of a very difficult and trying circumstance.

How can we apply this?
If you find yourself in a situation where you need someone along side - call out.
If you find yourself being called on by someone in need - come along side.

Alan Davenport

Monday, September 10, 2007

Philippians 1:1-11

Philippi, situated in Macedonia (roughly the northern half of modern Greece), on the major road between Rome and its eastern provinces, was a prosperous Roman colony. As a colony, it possessed a privileged status in the empire. Governed by Rome’s municipal law, it was in effect a “little Rome.” Most of the population was Gentile, with a significant number of Romans, many of them retired military veterans. As we read Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi, we should keep in mind this context, particularly when he emphasized that Christians’ true citizenship lies in heaven, where our true savior and lord comes from, as against any earthly citizenship with its pretenders to ultimate rule.

Paul visited Philippi around 49 or 50 A.D. on his second missionary journey. (Compare Acts 16.) He preached the good news of Jesus Christ for the first time in that place. Some, notably a merchant named Lydia, believed and became followers of Jesus. In subsequent years, Paul came to Philippi at least once more, and a deep relationship developed between him and the Christian community there. The bonds of true and holy affection thread visibly through today’s passage and the entire letter. When Paul wrote this letter, he was in custody. Likely he was under house arrest in Rome, around 61 or 62 A.D., awaiting a hearing before the emperor, with release or death to follow.

One thing to dwell upon in this opening passage and throughout – it is such a major point in the letter! – is that being a Christian does not consist in just meeting a set of minimum religious requirements. It is not a matter of merely crossing a church threshold. As we should grasp from Paul’s heartfelt prayer in verses 9 through 11, to follow Jesus truly must involve real, spiritual growth: in abounding love for God and our neighbor; in deepening knowledge and insight into God’s truth and purposes; in maturing discernment and application of what it means to live rightly and fruitfully in Jesus.

How can we grow? We grow spiritually when we devote ourselves to Scriptural teaching, to fellowship with other believers, to participation in the Eucharist, and to regular prayer. God has covenanted with us in Jesus. In turn we covenant with God when we engage in these activities. Are we growing in Jesus? Are we devoted to these practices? Are we, in God’s grace, maturing into the people God wants us to be? May we, with those Christians long ago, say and live out a great “Amen!” to Paul’s prayer.

Gregory Strong

Friday, September 07, 2007

James 4:13-5:6

Although this passage was full of wonderful lessons, there was one line that struck me.

James 4:14 says “For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

This reminds me of a Casting Crowns song, “Who Am I”:

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
A vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I’m calling
Lord, you catch me when I’m falling
And You’ve told me who I am
I am Yours, I am Yours

James’ point, I believe, was the very same – particularly for the rich people. And friends, being the top 1% of the world in income, we are all the rich people. Our worth comes from the love of God. Period. Jesus’ death assured us of that value. Without that death, we are nothing.

This was James’ point. Jesus – the only One worth any value – was murdered. What value could possibly be placed on us? Only the value based upon the love of Jesus.

So, as you go about your day, remember that you are loved and valued as a follower of Jesus Christ, and think about the true value of that love.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, September 06, 2007

James 3:13-4:12

Wow! Where do we start in a passage like this, loaded with so much very practical advice? I expect one could spend a lifetime trying to put everything in this passage into practice.

And that, of course, is precisely what we are meant to do. We were never meant to read a passage like this, say a quick prayer, and forget it. We are meant to reflect on the wisdom graciously offered here, consider what it would mean to put such wisdom into practice in our lives—and then do it!

Let us just take one line as an example: And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace (verse 18). Wouldn’t this be a great verse to memorize? To put on our refrigerator, office desk, bathroom mirror, car dash board—all the above? What would it look like to live and pray with this verse for a week or month or year—to work it deep into the soil of our lives so that it does indeed produce the promised harvest?

Where can we make peace today? I don’t think a day ever goes by where I don’t have some opportunity to make peace—or wage war. At home, at work, while driving, at church—what does it look like for us to continually be the kind of people who make peace, who leave the waters calm and placid instead of agitated and stirred up?

The passage gives us some further insight as to how we can sow the seeds of peace. We need to be humble, gentle, willing to yield (ouch!), submit to God (do those two go hand in hand?), wholly resistant to speaking evil against one another. That’s quite a list (and it’s sure not exhaustive). Anybody else struggle with any of these things?

I am personally working through a number of difficult things right now. They sap my emotional energy and leave my heart dry like a tinder box. It does not take much to ignite it. These verses speak to me, loud and clear. Perhaps they do to you too.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

James 3:1-12

Those who know me know how much I enjoy the book of James. For me it is an inspirational, in your face, book. It is straight forward in its commentary on how we should live our lives. Today's reading is no exception.

Today's reading regards controlling one's tongue. The power of speech is one of the greatest powers God has given us. With one's tongue, one can praise God, pray, preach the Word, and lead the lost to Christ. This is a great thing!! But with the same tongue one can tell lies or spread gossip that can ruin a person's reputation or break a person's heart. The ability to speak words is the ability to influence others and accomplish great tasks; yet we take this ability for granted and sometimes without the proper respect.

Alright, so how bad can improper use of this great gift and tool be? How bad can using it without thinking be? Have you ever said anything that you wish you could take back? I know I have. And even though we apologize and say we take it back, the damage is done, isn't it? James compares the tongue to a raging fire. The uncontrolled tongue can do terrible damage. To me James' analogy reminds me that words are like fire - you can neither control nor reverse the damage they can do.

So what are we to do? Someone told me this a while ago and I still remember it today. I do not always practice it but I try. Before you speak ask yourself the following questions, Is what I am about to say true? Is it necessary to be said? Is it kind? If the answer to all three questions is not yes, then examine if it needs to be said before you say it. I do not always, and some might say often, practice this, but I try. It is helpful to me and I commend it to you.

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

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

James 2:14-26

I have a love/hate relationship with the book of James. I love the practical advice it gives on the walk of faith. James contains many verses that speak directly to issues that I find myself dealing with on a regular basis. I am comforted and strengthened by the fact that the Word of God is clear and applicable to my daily activities; but I hate some of the practical advice that James gives on the walk of faith. I find myself convicted by verses that bring me face to face with God’s truth and how it should look in daily life – like today’s reading.

Today's reading made me think about things that I say that I believe in and I asked myself, “Do my actions demonstrate my belief?”

I say that I am concerned for the poor but could someone look at my life and see evidence of my concern?
I say that I believe in prayer but could someone look at how I spend my time and see evidence of my belief?

It is very easy to fall into a rut in our walk of faith. We can continue down a particular path doing the same thing over and over. It’s like mowing your lawn. You find a way that works and follow the same pattern week after week. It could be that the lay of the land dictates a particular path or it might be that you follow a particular direction because that is way you bring the mower out of the garage. There is usually a good initial reason for following a particular direction but if you want a healthier lawn, you need to change the mowing pattern.

As we go through James in the coming days, we can let the challenges we find be a catalyst to examine our habits and patterns of behavior. Let’s choose to be like James when he says, “I will show you my faith by what I do.”

Alan Davenport

Monday, September 03, 2007

James 2:1-13

We all have favorite things and experiences in life: foods; music; colors; activities; books; games; sports; places; and more. We all have favorite people as well. I need not list mine here, but I definitely enjoy certain people as favorite friends. You could identify your own, too, without a doubt.

Having favorite things, experiences, and people is not intrinsically wrong. It is in many ways quite natural. Favoring this or that plays a significant part in the rich composition of our individuality and our relations with the world around us.

Yet having favorites, when it comes to people, can all too easily decline into favoritism. Favoritism in our dispositions and behaviors consists of valuing and aiding people or groups to the detriment of others. In this regard, favoritism has little or nothing to do with love or enjoyment of people but more to do with a desire to curry favor in return, and even to become like those we favor. Whether blatant or insidious, favoritism ranges from distasteful to unfair to harmful.

In his letter to followers of Jesus, James warned against favoritism. In the world then, as now, favoritism warped toward the benefit of the rich and powerful. How insidious this was for those believers! It infected the heart of their faith. As they gathered for worship, some gave preferential treatment to wealthy and important attendees, even to the slighting of more ordinary and poor members. The place where followers of Jesus most receive, enjoy, and celebrate God’s lavishly merciful love degraded to worldly attitudes and actions counter to that love.

James clearly condemned such favoritism in the Christian community, particularly in the context of worship. In doing so though, he added a surprising twist to his admonition. He did not warn against favoritism because God treats all equally. Rather, favoritism toward the rich and powerful is wrong because God actually favors “those who are poor in the eyes of the world….” For those who fall by the wayside in the world’s pitiless economy, God goes out of his way to find and pick them up in his lavishly merciful love. God chooses and wills them “to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom….”

Do we align with the world or with God? Do we, in ways subtle or obvious, favor the rich and powerful? Do we slight or ignore those who are not rich and powerful in the world’s way? Or, as followers of Jesus, do we walk with God along the wayside to find and pick up those out of favor in this world? In short, do we, as James reminds us, keep the royal law of loving our neighbor as ourselves?

Gregory Strong

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Acts 28:17-31

They screw their eyes shut
so they won't have to look,
so they won't have to deal with me face to face
and let me heal them.
(Acts 28:27, The Message)

In today’s reading, the Jews accepted Paul’s invitation to hear the story of Jesus. Although some of them were convinced, many were not and some disagreements occurred.

There are several things that strike me as I read the verses for today. The first is that God knew that His people were going to reject Him. Paul quotes Isaiah’s accusation for their ancestors. But God didn’t give up on them. He sent Paul and others to make sure they heard of this opportunity and had a chance to accept Jesus as their savior. If it had been me, I don’t think I would have continued to pursue this relationship and make myself vulnerable to repeated rejection.

The next thing is that many refused to hear this good news about Jesus. – they don’t perceive or understand. It’s not uncommon for us to refuse to hear or believe news of bad things – serious health issues, marital problems, problems at work or school. But sometimes it’s also difficult to face and believe great news – that we can be loved, healed, saved by coming into relationship with Jesus.

And, I am completely amazed that all I have to do is open up and allow myself to have a relationship with Jesus. This simple act (OK it’s not always that simple) reaps rewards that I can’t imagine. By opening my heart to meet Him where I am, he will heal the hurts inflicted by life in this world and bless me in wonderful ways.

Finally, is the statement that God planned to offer this great gift to the Gentiles - the ones not considered to be God's people. I am filled with gratefulness that God blesses me with the chance to be in a relationship with Him.