Thursday, December 27, 2007

1 John 5:1-12

Today’s readings are the readings for celebration of the life of John. The son of Zebedee, he was one of the twelve apostles of Our Lord. Together with his brother James and with Simon Peter, he was part of an even tighter group among the Twelve. These three were privileged to behold the miracle of the Great Catch of Fish, the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, the raising of the daughter of Jairus, the Transfiguration, and the Agony in Gethsemane.

John wrote three epistles and one Gospel that all bear his name. He is also the author of the book of Revelation.

Though John was willing to be martyred, the best evidence suggests that after he was imprisoned and exiled for his testimony to the Gospel, he was eventually released and died a natural death in Ephesus. Thus he is known as “a martyr in will but not in deed"—a type of martyrdom which, perhaps, we will more likely be called to emulate.

The familiar themes of our need to love one another, to walk in the light by keeping God’s commandments, and the sure identity of Jesus as God’s son who gives eternal life to those who believe in him are both found in today’s reading from 1 John. These are themes which should mark our lives as well, and be readily apparent to all who know or observe us.

Finally, I leave you this day with the appointed prayer for the day:

Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light; that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

2 Chronicles 24:17-22

I feel today's reading has an interesting and very pertinent day after Christmas message for us. In verse 18 it states, "They abandoned the temple of the Lord, the God of their fathers, and worshiped Asherah poles and idols." If everything went so well for the people in Judah when they worshiped God, why did they turn away?

Prosperity certainly is a blessing, but it can also be a curse. Receiving a blessing from God is a glorious and beautiful thing. However, today's reading is telling us that prosperity can lead to moral and spiritual decline. Prosperous people can be tempted to become proud and a bit full of themselves. Prosperous people can forget that the very blessings that made them prosperous came from God. God gives us blessings and all he asks in return is that we remember from where the blessing came and give him thanks.

Yes, prosperity can be a blessing and a curse. Let's let today's reading remind us that we are not to take blessings for granted. We must always remember that they are gifts from God and they belong to God. God wants us to enjoy the blessings he gives us but also to use them, be they a talent or gift, to further his kingdom. On this day after Christmas, let's all remember the blessings God has given us, give him thanks for them, and evaluate how we are using them - for his good or for our own?

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

Friday, December 21, 2007

Revelation 6:1-17


This passage from Revelation seems more than a bit out of sync with the season we are in. But we do tend to overlook the dark part of Christmas, don't we?

In that spirit I humbly offer a new poem.

A Dangerous Christmas?

It was no silent night. The displaced stable
Creatures crew and chewed and mooed and snorted.
A maiden moaned and gasped, strained to deliver
A crying baby, shrieking in the straw.
The little town was too spun up to sleep
As travellers swarmed the streets and filled the inn
Three to a bed, or bellies at the bar
That flowed with wine to make the landlord rich.
There were no kings, no little drummer boy
Only the scorned and leprous refugees
Of an empire backwater, pressed to pay the tax
Without a voice or vote--without a hope.
If there were heralds in the teeming streets
At midnight, their cry would be "Danger!
Mothers, hide your suckling sons!" as soldiers
Roamed and rousted, put them to the sword.
The truly dangerous One lay hid in straw
No gentle infant, not a friend to power,
Nor born to comfort, riches, life of ease.
Dare we let Christmas be dangerous again?
Exchange our safe, entitled holidays
For risk and sacrifice, for costly love?
Unlearn the sentimental tales of yule,
Learn new the Christmas mission meant for us?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Revelation 5:6-14

Today’s reading underscores to me the individual power and beauty which is Christ crucified. The first five chapters of Revelation set the stage for the opening of the book (or scroll in some Bible versions) which has seven seals. There is a great deal of anticipation leading to discovery of the book to begin with. Then, when it is learned that no one can open the book, there is widespread disappointment.

Only Jesus can open the book, the slaughtered Lamb. This, to me, shows once again that Jesus is the only way, the only truth and the only life. If you follow anyone or anything else, you will never see what is in the book, that is, you will never gain access to eternal life.

In the same way, Jesus in only to be worshipped and glorified. I cannot even imagine what it would look like to see “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing…” I know what it is like when the whole congregation really gets into a song. It is pretty breathtaking to be part of such homage.

In this season of Christmas, we must remain mindful of the significance of the birth of Christ. That he only was born for the purpose of dying for our sins. His lowly birth was part and parcel of what Jesus was, what he stood for and the tremendous glory that followed such a humble man.

We cannot open the book. We don’t have to open the book, though, to follow the Lamb into eternity. We can follow the example of the only one who can break the seals, and live humbly during this time when excess is the story of the day.

I wish for you a humble Christmas, feeling the joy of Christ’s simple and beautiful peace.

Vicki Nelson

Revelation 4:9-5:5

Is our worship dull and boring? If we took a nap during one of our services, would we really miss anything?

Today’s reading talks about worship. It does so as a multisensory experience that is anything but tedious and dreary.

Sight is engaged as our eyes are captured by the “living creatures”. Special effects in movies these days provide some pretty impressive “eye candy”, but the creatures we find here are even more riveting.

Our ears are engaged by compelling sounds. The living animals apparently have some sort of voice (is their worship spoken with the authority of a lion's roar; does it resonate with bellow of an ox; does it pierce like the cry of an eagle?). The elders sing and chant.

Our bodies are engaged by action and posture and position. People “fall down”. They throw things—namely their crowns, at the feet of God’s throne. A food fight isn’t exactly a similar image—it’s more like the antithesis of what is pictured here—but people don’t sit in a food fight unengaged. The throwing speaks of active participation.

This is not meant to be taken as a literal description of what we’ll experience in heaven. Does God toss the crowns back to the living creatures so they can throw them back to the throne? Or do they take a break from worship to go pick them up themselves so they can toss them again and repeat over and over again? Do they regrow new crowns? The details are not what is important. What is important is the scope and scale of the grand drama taking place, so that we too find ourselves standing in awe before God’s throne.

So here is the question: How is our worship going these days? Do we catch something of what it means to enter into the presence of the living God, and that this is not something we do casually and lightly? Do we begin to perceive that worship is about beholding that which God is doing in the world and wholeheartedly taking our place in it?

Too often we approach worship tired, disinterested, without focus or expectation.. I hope today’s reading will give us all a renewed realization of how our worship can be—should be—so much more than it often is.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Revelation 4:1-8

Beginning with Chapter 4, the book of Revelation shifts from the seven churches in Asia to the future of the worldwide church. John sees the course of coming events similar to the way Daniel and Ezekiel had seen them. The clear teaching in the book of Revelation is that God will defeat evil, with many of the passages containing clear spiritual teachings. Other passages, like today’s chapter 4 reading, are filled with symbolism.

In today’s reading John describes the throne room to us as best he can with his human limitations. John says God has “the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.” (v. 3) Perhaps John is contrasting God’s throne to that of Caesar’s. Caesar’s pomp and splendor were nothing compared to John’s description of God’s throne room.

John goes on to say, “In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.’”(v. 6-8) Why are these four earthly creatures represented in heaven? No one knows for sure and there are many theories out there, but one that I like is that these creatures symbolize the following: the lion symbolizes majesty and power, the ox symbolizes faithfulness, the human symbolizes intelligence, and the eagle symbolizes sovereignty.

Today’s reading is full of symbolism. The meaning of all the symbolism is not totally clear but the majesty of heaven is very clear. We may not be able to comprehend heaven with our pea sized brains, but I certainly look forward to getting there and seeing it for myself.

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

Friday, December 14, 2007

Revelation 2: 18-29

I turned to The Message, the contemporary language rendition of the Bible, to gain insight into this passage about judgment. Eugene Peterson has written introductions to each book which help me focus on the main lessons of the book.

For the book of Revelation, Peterson writes that it is about worship, and if we keep reading through all the imagery, we can pick up the rhythms of the book and partake in its worship. (And just like these days we are looking forward to celebrating Christ’s first advent, Christmas, Revelation teaches us about His second advent, and about how everyone will worship Christ).

This passage is written to the church in Thyatira. The members have done many things right; love, faith, service, and patient endurance.

Although the congregation at Thyatira has persevered in some ways, they are here reminded by John, in a vivid way, that they are tolerating a woman in their midst who is leading many into sin. By the language John uses he is clearly angry that this is happening. He calls the woman one who practices fornication and those she lead astray he describes as “adulterers”.

Why the anger? John here shows his pastoral heart; like a shepherd guarding his sheep he is looking out for the church. He knows what is best for the church and they are not experiencing it. He wants the church to be united in worship, not split by sin.

Let us likewise look out for each other and for our church; by praying, and caring, and leading worshipful lives. When we are united to serve Christ many will benefit. I realize that we can’t take any of this for granted. Satan does not want us to succeed in our acts of worship. Let us pray for our church.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Revelation 2:8-17

Would you like to know what Christ expects of the church?

That is the subject of today’s verses from the book of Revelation. In them, we see two basic expectations Christ has of the church that is faithful to him. First, it will be willing to suffer. And second, it will hold fast to the Truth. The two are not unrelated.

To embrace that Truth is to embrace suffering. Because to embrace Truth is not just to believe it, it is also to live it. It is not just to see what should be done, it is to do it. It is not just to see what needs to be sacrificed, it is to sacrifice it. It is not just to see what must be changed—in ourselves most of all—it is to change it.

Where is God calling you and me to suffer for the sake of the Gospel? Perhaps we are called to suffer financially, as the Truth leads us to see what really matters and give with a generosity we once would never even have thought possible (and certainly not desirable!). Perhaps we are called to suffer physically, as the Truth of our identity as servants calls us to help others in ways that are uncomfortable for us, require hard work, or entail giving up time that we would rather have spent on our selves. Perhaps we are called to suffer mentally as the Truth calls us to see the world in new ways, to think in new ways, to trust in new ways. Perhaps we are called to suffer relationally as the Truth calls us live honestly in love, learning to forgive, to be vulnerable, to forsake familiar patterns of behavior.

Wherever it is, you can be sure if we are not suffering somewhere for the sake of the Gospel, we have not sufficiently beheld or grasped the Truth it so dangerously and boldly proclaims.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Revelation 1:17-2:7

I often find the book of Revelation a bit confusing – but today it seems very clear to me. In today's reading, Jesus Christ commends the church at Ephesus for working hard, persevering, resisting sin, critically examining the claims of false apostles, and enduring hardships without becoming weary. These good works are the characteristics every church should have. But then, in 2:4, Christ indicates something much less commendable, "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love."

Is it possible in the battle to maintain sound teaching and good morals to lose the loving spirit?

Of course, and today the same accusation can be leveled at some churches. Sure there is an eagerness for truth, there is continuous and persevering labor; but the intimate love for Jesus Christ is sometimes lacking. A church, a community, or a Christian can set an example with good deeds but still not have the love for Jesus Christ that must grow in the core of the being. Without growing love, these activities are in vain.

This concept of growing love is troubling. I mean think of a new relationship or your spouse. When you first meet the thrill is very high. The excitement is very high. You think about the other person all the time. However, when the relationship or marriage gets older, there is a tendency for these items to fade. In the same way, when we became new Christians we were excited and "fired up" to do God's work. We longed to find ways to show our love of Christ. But as our relationship with Christ has matured, there could be a tendency to let that excitement fade just a bit. Our love is not growing, it is stagnate at best.

The best way I know to grow this love is to be intimate again. Intimate with your spouse. Intimate with Christ. Recite the Jesus Creed, make a point of praying every day. Growing the love in our heart for Jesus will bring us closer to his will and help each of us understand his plan for us.

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

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Jude 17-25

From Jude:
Don't make me sad
chase the bad out, your days get better,
Remember to keep Christ sure in your heart
faith he'll impart,
And fulfill this letter.

Like Jude,
In these last days, we hear scoffers, we see divisions
Look forward, God's mercy calls us to life
Keeps us from strife
And their derision.

He's reaching out, please let him in, says Jude, begin
The prayer that you need is in the Spirit...

Saint Jude, you make me glad
'Cause your last words tell how this debtor
Is freed from turning back to his sin
As we begin
To live forever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ah!
na, na, na, na-na-na-nah, la la la la, Saint Jude....
Amen amen amen amen amen amen...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Jude 1-16

Today’s reading is from the often forgotten Book of Jude. I must admit, I have not read this book before, or if I have, I’ve simply forgotten it. But, it is with fresh eyes that I see lessons which are as meaningful today as they were to the early Christians.

Jude writes to his audience (and from what I can find out, no one is quite sure who his audience was) not only to rejoice in the salvation that comes through Jesus, but to beware of those around them who could turn them against the true Christian way. This reminds me of folks I know who don’t go to church. They like to make plans for Sunday mornings and invite us to come. It is as if they would feel so much better about their decision if they could get me to change mine. They seek validation. I’m sure all of you have people in their lives, even peripherally, who do not support the Christian way of life.

These are not evil people. It is hard to look at them and think to myself “Ah ha! I must steer clear of these people as they represent the devil!” No, it’s not that easy. I love the imagery that Jude uses to describe these people – “They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved for ever.” Yes, I know some folks that fit that description.

But, I have a counter to Jude that I would suggest. We should not shun these folks. While we need to beware the temptations that come through such channels, we also need to be on our “Christian-best” behavior with them. For without learning about Christ through us, how else will they be saved?

Vicki Nelson

2 Peter 3:11-18

There is an interesting dialogue going on these days as to just what the Christian vision of the future really is. On the one hand there is a popular apocalyptic view characterized in such books as the Left Behind series . This view tends to hold that there is little hope for history (or the future) because things will only get worse until God has to destroy the world.

Some have wondered if this is not, perhaps, a self fulfilling prophecy, distorting the Biblical picture of God’s purpose for us and supporting politics of polarization, violence, and extremism. This has lead to an alternative view, which states that Jesus came “to save the earth and all it contains from its ongoing destruction because of human evil. Through his life and teaching, through his suffering, death, and resurrection, he inserted into human history a seed of grace, truth, and hope that can never be defeated. This seed will, against all opposition and odds, prevail over the evil and injustice of humanity and lead to the world’s ongoing transformation into the world God dreams of” (Brian McClaren, Everything Must Change, pp. 81-2).

How one decides on this issue will determine how they interpret the first couple verses of today's Scripture passage. Is it a literal description of God destroying the earth (nuclear apocalypse?) or apocalyptic language with its characteristic outlandish imagery referring to a radical transformation from one state to another?

Personally, I find myself increasingly inclined to the latter these days. I think that best fits this passage, because then the moral character of our lives described in the following verses is an essential aspect of the “ongoing transformation” that God is doing and that will one day bring about the glorious future “where righteousness dwells.”

These verses teach us, then, that we are those who have something to look forward to, and that is the reason we are to "make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him (Jesus)."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

2 Peter 3:1-10

Most of this concluding chapter of 2 Peter is devoted to the second coming of Jesus Christ. The emphasis of today's reading is that Christians should not get impatient waiting for this event but maintain our steadfast belief that this event will happen. It may not happen in the short time we are on this planet, but it will happen.

In verses 8 and 9 of today's reading is a favorite line of mine. "With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." Peter's comments in these verses answered the question the addressees were contemplating, why was the Lord delaying the second coming, the judgment day, so long? Peter offered us two reasons in these verses.

The first reason is God does not count time as people do. God is above and outside the sphere of time. Time truly is relative, and God sees all of eternity - past and future. God may have been seen as slow to act to the believers Peter is addressing as they faced persecution every day and longed to be delivered. But remember, God is not slow to act, he just does not operate under our, human, timetable.

The second reason Peter gives was God's patience. He wants as many people to come to faith as possible so he does not have to see souls die. Thus, God is not slow at all, he is acting out of love for us by giving us time to repent.

None of us know when we will meet Jesus. The thought of it can be very exciting yet very frightening at the same time. Compared to eternity, none of us has very much time in this life. What can I do, what can you do, to less the frightening feeling and elevate the exciting feeling?

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