Friday, November 30, 2007

I Peter 3:13-4:6

I’m having trouble here balancing the laptop, Bible and cat on my lap. The Bible and cat are sort of large but the cat has decided these days to see what it’s like to be a lap cat. It feels peaceful as we sit here. These winter days, I associate the feeling of peace with the feeling of being covered, like with a warm blanket (or cat). We feel this when we watch the winter sunrise or sunset through the bare trees or see fall leaves floating on a creek.

As in yesterday’s reading, in today’s reading Peter talks about how we can bring peace to others, specifically those who ask us about our faith. Be gentle and show respect, Peter urges. I like his use of the word respect which denotes that we shouldn’t speak down to others, but treat them as equals, even those with whom we disagree. In this way we can bring peace, like a warm blanket, to a potentially tense situation.

Peter also discusses peace in the midst of suffering. We can feel peace, he says, in this way, “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” (v 15). I picture my heart as large room, and sitting in the center is Christ, and I am worshipping at his feet. I picture the room as empty except for Christ; empty of other distractions. When we suffer for doing good, Peter says, remember the cross of Christ.

Finally Peter offers encouragement for those suffering at the hands of those who deride those who follow God’s way instead of “plunging”, as Peter says, into the flood of misdeeds. Be faithful, Peter says, as we will be judged for our actions.

May we today, bring peace and feel peace as we set apart Christ as Lord.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

1 Peter 2:11-25

Today’s reading begins by calling us to “conduct ourselves honorably amongst the Gentiles, so that…they may glorify God.” In other words, the lives we lead are meant to attract people to God, not push them farther away. The church has not always done a very good job of that, to be sure.

As we move into the holiday season, we will not doubt spend time with people who do not believe as deeply as we do, and perhaps who do not believe at all. For them, the holidays may simply be about shopping, eating, drinking, and a chance to take a nice trip to warmer climates or maybe get in some skiing out west.

Running into these folks at work, parties, our neighborhoods, on the roads, in the stores, and so on means that we will have ample occasions to put this principle into practice. I’d suggest that we commit ourselves right now to putting this principle into practice and make the most of the opportunities that will no doubt be given us.

As the passage goes on, it tells us how we can do this by living with courtesy, honor, and respect for authority. I expect we’ll have plenty of chances to be gracious, well-mannered, and appropriately submissive (not insisting on our own way might be one way of thinking about that) in our dealings with one another.

The passage closes with a reflection on all God has done for us in Christ Jesus. I hope that all of us will take time today to reflect on that, and to appropriately and intentionally express how grateful we are for God’s love and all the blessings that flow from it. It also gives us one last image of how we are meant to live in Christ: we will not retaliate when people hurt us. We’ll probably have a chance to put that into practice over the holidays too, won’t we?

Finally, I love the last image, of Christ as the “shepherd and guardian of our souls”. It is the image of a God who wants the best for us, who we can trust to care for us even when we don’t know how to care for ourselves. It is a God we would do well to spend time with and learn from and love.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of this holiday season, may we make time to do just that.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

1 Peter 2:1-10

Today's reading has several parts and messages. A main one, and a famous one, is Peter's portrayal of the church as a living, spiritual house, with Christ as the foundation and cornerstone and each believer as a stone in the house. This is a very similar analogy as Paul uses when he portrays the church as a body, with Christ as the head and each believer as a body part. These descriptions are widely quoted and very important, but not what I want to concentrate my comments on today. I would like to discuss the very first words of today's reading.

The first verse in today's reading list five sins that we must rid ourselves of if we are to grow spiritually. And after all, we need to grow, we are called to grow, in order to move closer to Christ. It is easy to overlook these items in the first verse, but I found them insightful and worthy of discussion.

The sins Peter lists are:
Malice - which is an attitude similar to hatred. This is an attitude of revenge.
Deceit - or deliberate dishonesty. Anything less than full and honest truth.
Hypocrisy - acting in a way to conceal ones true motives.
Envy - resentful discontent in ones, or with ones, status or possessions.
Slander - speech that assaults the character of another.

This list, I find, is a great list. None of these sins will allow us to become the person God wishes us to become. Now I am not naive enough to think that it is easy, or even humanly possible, to completely rid ourselves of these five sins. However, Christians should yearn to grow spiritually; yearn to grow closer to God. By moving away from these sins is an enabler to that growth. And a powerful way to grow!

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

1 Peter 1:13-25

My father was a very good basketball player. I remember reading through his high school and college yearbooks and seeing box scores from some of his games. I found that the most points he scored in a game was 33. I made it a goal of mine to beat his high point game. I spent hours practicing and working on my skills. I was motivated to be a good basketball player because my dad was a good basketball player.

This attitude and motivation is one of the points that I saw in today’s reading:

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." (1 Peter 1:15-16)

I can hear Christ saying in the last part of this passage, “I am holy; you be holy”. This touches the part of me that helped me be a better basketball player as I tried to imitate my dad. I can relate to this message and understand the part that I play in imitating Christ.

While it is true that we have a responsibility in “being holy”, this is only part of the picture and in reality it is the smallest part. Far more important is the holiness of Christ. This is the second point that I saw in today’s reading. Only because of the holiness of Christ, through Christ residing in our hearts and us allowing Christ to live in our actions is there any way for us to be holy. I can hear Christ saying, "Because I am holy, you can be holy."

Alan Davenport

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Revelation 21:22-22:5

Perhaps you have heard of SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. Most SAD sufferers experience sadness and depressive symptoms in the fall/winter season. Why? It is brought on by the diminishing levels of light. In fact, even gray and cloudy days can contribute to the symptoms of SAD. Without light, our well being begins to suffer.

This year in northern Virginia we continue to experience a terrible drought. We’ve had a little rainfall lately, but not nearly enough to replenish reservoirs or even soil moisture levels. Serious concerns are being raised about having enough drinking water for entire communities. Clearly without water, a community can’t survive.

In sum, light and water are needed for life. And it is for that reason that they are picked up here in this passage as symbols of God’s power not just to sustain life but to cause it to blossom and flourish. The point is that the way of Jesus is the way of Life, life in abundance, life to the full.

We are, of course, confronted with a variety ways to do life each and every day. Many of these ways compete with the way of Jesus and seek to replace it. Many of these ways of destroy or denigrate life rather than cherish and encourage it.

A good exercise might be to make a list of ways that compete with the way of Jesus, and then think of how they entice us to follow them. Some examples might be the way of perfectionism, the pursuit of bigger and better and more and more, the way of impersonalizing others for own ends, or demonizing those with whom we disagree, and so on. None of these are the way of Jesus, and none promote the life he died to bring.

Will you and I choose this day to walk in the way of Jesus, to be people who bring light to a world that often lives in darkness, and refreshment to a dry and weary land where there is no water?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Revelation 21:9-21

Happy day before Thanksgiving. Today's reading gives us plenty to be thankful for. It gives us a stunning description of the new city of God. The vision is symbolic and shows us that our new home with God will defy description. I do not know about you, but I am extremely thankful for this. Today's reading tells us heaven's wonders are beyond our comprehension.

To me, today's reading can be summarized as follows. Heaven is a real place!!! It is a place of glory and beauty. It is a place that houses a peace beyond our understanding. It is a place where the "glory of God" will be the only light needed in heaven.

I like the phrase, "glory of God". It has appeared in different places throughout history. God's glory dwelt in the tabernacle and then in the temple. Today, His glory dwells in believers and in His church. For all eternity, the glory of God will be seen in His holy city, a.k.a. heaven.

The final item I wish to discuss from today's reading is the city's description. The description follows the pattern of cities with which John would have been familiar. It had foundations, walls, and gates (of course pearly gates). However, I think these familiarities are also symbolic. The foundations symbolize permanence. The walls and gates symbolize protection. God's new city is permanent and its inhabitants will never have to fear any enemy - after all angels are the sentries at the gates.

What a wonderful place heaven must be. It is very reassuring and worthy of thanksgiving to know that this place awaits all who acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. What a loving God!!!

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Revelation 21:1-8

My wife likes to tell the story of what I said when I saw her in her wedding dress on our wedding day - I said that she looks VERY Nice (emphasis mine).

On one of the most important days of a woman’s life, a day that culminates months perhaps years of planning and dreaming, a day that formalizes a covenant relationship – “you look nice” or even “you look very nice” falls way short of the appropriate way to recognize a bride. I won’t try to explain myself – just confess that these were not the correct words to say to a bride on her wedding day.

I wish that I had read today’s reading just prior to our wedding. I really could have taken a queue from these verses. The New Jerusalem is described as a bride being presented to her husband. The verses go on to describe the wonderful promises that will be fulfilled in that day:

"Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Rev 21:3-4)

I can imagine the rejoicing, exultation, and praise that will take place as the saints join with God to live for eternity with him in this new place.

I am looking forward to the wedding described in these verses. I can almost picture myself there with my wife now. If you are there with us, you'll probably hear me saying, “This is nice.”

Alan Davenport

Friday, November 16, 2007

Revelation 19:11-16

What wonderful imagery we have in today’s reading – “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse…” I think one of the reasons why the writer of the Book of Revelation used such vivid and stark images was to show a sharp contrast between good and evil. In Jesus’ time, that was difficult to do. Their every day life was violent and stark.

Our civilization now is more refined. We have more difficulty accepting the images used in Revelation, even in today’s reading. These verses are supposed to show the glory of God as he rides from heaven down to earth to save the faithful. Yet, these passages say that he comes to judge and make war. “His eyes are like blazing fire…” “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood…” “Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.” “He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.” Wow. The God I imagine simply wouldn’t look like that. The picture in my mind looks more like the paintings I have seen of the gentle Jesus with a lamb over his shoulders. I believe that God will triumph over evil by His goodness and love, not because he has the bigger sword or army.

The fact of the matter, and what I think this reading is really about, is that Jesus is coming again in glory to take the faithful from the horrible place that earth will (and has already to a certain extent) become. There will be a stark difference between those who have chosen salvation and those who have not. We all have a choice to make every day in that regard. We can be saved, and by being saved live the life of love that Jesus showed to us, or we can wait for a violent and torturous end.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Rev. 19:1-10

One of the people who helped me better understand the book of Revelation is John Ortberg. He preached a series in which he likened the book of Revelation to Studio Wrestling. It was that comparison that has stuck with me now several years later.

His point was that all of us know that Studio Wresting isn’t “real”. We understand from the very start that this is different than, say, Olympic Wrestling, and we interpret what is happening in the ring accordingly.

He then likened that to Apocalyptic literature, of which the book of Revelation is an example. Everyone in Jesus day would’ve known that Apocalyptic is interpreted differently than, say, historical writings (such as the Gospels).

This means that in Revelation, John uses bold and graphic images to remind us of the essential truths. In today’s reading, for instance, John doesn’t mean for us to read of “the great whore” and think that at the end of time Jesus is going to be judging some massive prostitute.
No, his point is that there are always going to be people and forces that will seek to entice us away from worshipping God and being faithful to him. We’d do well to remember that on some level at least whores have to be attractive, or they’d go out of business. Evil doesn’t look bad, or most of us wouldn’t do it. It looks good—pretty darn good, in fact! But what a whore promises—the pleasure of intimacy—is not what she really offers. Beyond the physical connection, there is no intimacy in what is in essence a business transaction with a whore.

In contrast to the whore is the bride who has stayed true to the one she loves and thus is “bright and pure.” Whereas the way of the whore will be exposed for the corruption it is, the way of the faithful bride will bring such great joy that it results in the festal shout, "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!"
Fans of Studio Wrestling know that they have to make a choice between the good guy and the bad guy. Wise readers of the book of Revelation know the same thing: we are going to have to choose between God and the great whore, and our eternal destinies depend on that choice.

It’s a choice you’ll have to make today as you will every day. Who will you choose? Who will I?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Revelation 18:21-24

Today’s reading is only four verses. It is about the final destruction of the evil city of Babylon.

The reading begins when an angel “picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea”. This symbolized the conclusion of the judgments and the disappearance of the great final city of the antichrist. The city will sink into oblivion just as the unsinkable Titanic sank into the Atlantic Ocean.

The reading then goes into a poem about what will never be heard in that city again. I would like to call your attention to the line near the end of verse 23, “Your merchants were the world's great men. By your magic spell all the nations were led astray.” Babylon’s business men and women were very influential. They could have used their talents, abilities, and influential skills for good; however, they “led nations astray.” They led them into that false religion that security and happiness can be found in the multitude of possessions. They led them into worshiping money instead of God. As Jesus said, you cannot serve two masters – money and God. The worship of money and possessions led them to their doom.

Today’s reading tells us that God will destroy this great wicked city because it enticed people away from true religion and holiness and into false religion and impurity. This is a very good reminder to me to keep focused on, and to put my trust in, God. Only God will save us. Chasing earthly idols will ultimately lead to our downfall.

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Revelation 18:9-20

Have you ever known anyone that lost everything in a fire?

When I was in High School, my best friend Rippy suffered a house fire. The house was not totally destroyed but Rippy lost everything from his room. The fire had a huge impact on Rippy’s family but he was personally devastated by the loss of his 8-track collection. For any young people reading this, 8-tracks were a precursor to cassette tapes. Rippy probably had 100 or more albums, all of which were destroyed by the heat of the fire. Music was important to Rippy and he had invested a lot of time and money into acquiring his collection – losing his collection hurt him deeply.

Today’s reading from Revelation paints a descriptive picture of people mourning over their material losses. The passage reminds us of the transient nature of possessions and it caused me to recall this incident from my youth.

It wouldn’t be fair to Rippy, if I didn’t tell you what happened in the months after the fire. He quickly got over the loss of his 8-track collection. I remember visiting the motel room where Rippy and his family stayed for the three months while their house was being repaired. There was a spirit of thankfulness and joy in spite of their loss and their difficult circumstances. I know that for Rippy, the fire that summer caused him to re-examine what was important to him. Family and faith won out over personal possessions.

As Paul Harvey would say, “And that’s the rest of the story.”

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Revelation 17:1-14

Mystery, yes, mystery and beyond that a mix of terror and revulsion. This is not a scene one can encounter casually, channel-surfing late on Friday night. This is a vision of the unholy, the monstrous yet not without meaning. "This calls for a mind that has wisdom." Lord, grant us wisdom to begin to fathom this chunk of the Revelation.

The woman is beautiful, resplendent in regal robes and jewelry, and her "ride" would turn heads on any road, but she is drunk, intoxicated not with wine but with the pressings of murder. Innocent lives, those who bear the testimony of Jesus, have been sacrificed on her altar, and she could not care less. The powers of the earth are allied with her. But their power will pass in the span of a single hour, as they make war upon the Lamb. What Lamb is it that can contend with the seven-headed, ten-horned beast? The Lamb who is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, the Lamb who calls those whose name is written in the eternal book of Life to contend against the beast.

I suggest we take the scene--and the larger drama in which it is set--seriously though not literally. Is the woman symbolic of a revitalized Babylonian Empire, or the Rome which persecuted John in the first century, or the corrupt later church, or the newly unified Europe of the Left Behind series? She may be some, all, or none of the above. Should we assimilate the ghastly terror of this nightmare? Should we leave the scene in the way in which we might awaken in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, pulse racing yet finding comfort in repeating "it was only a dream, it was only a dream..." Not quite. The horrible battlefield remains our battlefield. We contend now and will continue to contend against things that are powerful, wealthy, possessed of a sort of attractiveness, yet ultimately unspeakably ugly, finally ferociously filthy. We shall be saved only through the Lamb.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Revelation 14:1-13

The “mark of the beast” is something that has fascinated people down through the ages. What is it? How is it recognized? Some have taken it quite literally; that to have the “mark of the beast” is to have 666 tattooed on our foreheads. Others have been a bit more fancifully, seeing it as some kind of bar code inscribed on the back of one’s hand or on one’s forehead. This bar code will be required by the antichrist when he is finally revealed, and without it no one will be able to buy or purchase anything.

I don’t find either of those explanations convincing. First, they do not honor the fact that this is apocalyptic literature, a form of writing that uses images and numbers as symbols of a greater truth. When John wrote this book, neither he nor the Holy Spirit who was inspiring him meant for them to be taken literally.

Second, if they are only future events that will occur someday, they really don’t have a lot to do with me now. I can skip this portion of Scripture, leaving it for the day when the mark of the beast really is a problem.

Third, notice the contrast between verse 1 and verse 9. The 144,000 (again, a number not meant to be taken literally but as statement of God’s perfection and ability to save) also have a mark on their forehead; the name of God.

This seems like a pretty big clue to understanding what is going on here. These are people who are faithful to God, who live according to his purpose and calling.

With these things in mind, it seems to me that the mark of the beast is the life that fails to worship God. It is on the forehead because it represents thoughts that run counter to God’s thoughts; it is on the back of the hands because it represents works counter to God’s works. It is the life that is lived in such a way that it brings a little bit of hell to earth rather God’s kingdom (heaven).

When we understand the mark of the beast in this way, we understand it was something the people of John’s day struggled with just like its something you and I struggle with. In a sense, it is the struggle of our lives –and not just a reference to some obscure future event that was as irrelevant to John’s readers as such a reference would be to us.

To win this struggle will require endurance. It will require us to keep God’s commandments. It will require us to hold fast to the faith of Jesus. It is the faith of Jesus that will define our lives, not the world around us.

The good news is that for those who persevere, one day their labor will be over, and it will not be in vain. As The Message puts it, those who stay faithful to Jesus receive “blessed rest from their hard, hard work. None of what they've done is wasted; God blesses them for it all in the end."

I can’t wait.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Revelation 12:1-12

Today's reading is about spiritual warfare. Something I personally think is very real.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 02, 2007

Revelation 6:12-7:4

Today’s reading from Revelation may, for some, be the penultimate goal of being a Christian. After all, don’t we all want to be part of the final drama, the “Rapture”, when Jesus returns to take home those who are really faithful? Especially when you hear “the end is near” folks who insist that it is around the corner.

When I have written about verses in Revelation before in these devotionals, I have admitted to my difficulty in explaining something that, frankly, I have trouble understanding. There is a reason that I prefer reading books that are fairly straightforward, as opposed to fantasy books. These verses are no different for me. I don’t pretend to know about the symbolism. But, I want to be one of the 144,000.

My paranoid human side worries about that number. Gee, that’s not very many. Certainly those who call themselves “Christians” number in the millions. How will I know if there will be a spot for me? Answer: You won’t. Although we all want to be one of those souls who are part of Jesus’ second coming, that really isn’t the goal, is it? The goal is to accept Christ – heart, soul and mind – and by doing so, become as Christ-like as humanly possible. At that point, you will have been fully restored to the promise of God. Death has no more meaning anyway. There is no more human paranoia because yours is a life of love.

So, when I study the book of Revelation, I realize that one of my questions to God when I see him will be – What was that all about?

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Hebrews 11:32-12:2

Today is All Saints Day, the day when we remember all who have faithfully loved and served the Lord over the ages. It is a pointed celebration, because we are meant to take our place with them as well.

In the biblical sense of the word, a saint is a “holy one”. Holiness is not a reference to behavior that is so out of the ordinary that it is either unattainable or undesirable. The idea behind it is the idea of being set apart for a sacred purpose. What is meant to set us apart is God’s call upon our lives; we have been “called out” to follow him.

Holiness, then, is lived out in ordinary, everyday life by ordinary, everyday people just like you and just like me. It is lived out when we answer God’s call in our lives and faithfully live in harmony with his purposes for us. Anyone who does this is, in the New Testament sense of the word, a “saint”

Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us how we can be faithful to God’s call upon us and live as saints.

First, we remember this isn’t something we do alone. We are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses”; vast numbers of people down through the ages who have stepped out in faith to boldly follow God’s call. They bear witness to God’s faithfulness to them, reminding us that God will be faithful to us as well. We can trust him as they did; He will not let us down or lead us astray.

Second, we remember we’re not perfect. Believe it or not, the saints weren’t perfect either. They had their flaws and so do we. You do. I do too.

So we take a good hard look at our lives, asking God to help us see all those things that hold us back or tie us down and so keep us from being fully faithful to Him. Then we cast these things off and run hard the race that is set before us, enjoying the perfect freedom in so doing that God alone can give.

And finally, we remember who is perfect: Jesus. We look to him not only for our example, but for the power to follow it. We look to Jesus as “the author and finisher of our faith”, the “pioneer and perfecter” of our faith that he surely is.